Textbook prices criticized

    In light of recent tuition fee increases, the issue of textbook pricing has been brought up by various groups hoping to take action to lower prices. Several organizations such as minority advocacy group Greenlining Institute and the California Public Interest Research Group are taking action to address the issue.

    Victor Ha/Guardian
    High costs: Many textbooks for required classes are sold for over $100. UC students spend an average of $1,254 per year on textbooks, a new study says.

    Greenlining Institute recently sent a letter asking UC President Robert C. Dynes to take a firm stance with major book publishers and ask that textbook rates be equal to rates offered in Great Britain. This letter comes after an Oct. 21 article in The New York Times reported that many textbooks bought by college students around the country are actually available overseas for half the price.

    According to Greenlining Intern Richard Corpus, the letter urges Dynes to take the lead in reducing the cost of education for UC students, especially those that come from low-income families.

    “”We urge President Dynes to challenge these global corporations that reap tremendous profits from California, but do very little in return,”” Corpus said. “”Our hope is that Dynes will be the leader in reducing textbook costs.””

    According to a study done by the organization, UC students spend $180 million on books per year. Additionally, the study shows that for UC campuses, the average cost of textbooks and materials has been steadily increasing and is estimated at $1,254 per year, which is 48 percent higher than the national average of $843 reported by the College Board.

    “”California is one of the top-three textbook markets in the nation and officials must use their influence to benefit our students,”” Corpus said. “”Costs can go as high as $1,415 at schools such as UC Irvine.””

    According to UC spokesman Hanan Eisenman, UC bookstores are adopting certain policies to help students purchase textbooks at lower prices. These policies include UC bookstores providing discounts, buying back books from students and making reading lists public property so they are accessible through private bookstores and online.

    Additionally, textbook costs are calculated into financial aid, according to Eisenman.

    “”The UC is concerned with the prices of textbooks for our students,”” Eisenman said. “”We are beginning to work with student groups and the Academic Senate to see what we can do regarding the issue. We also expect to have conversation with Greenlining about this issue.””

    According to John Turk, the manager of UCSD Bookstore, several strategies are being used to lower the costs of textbooks. One strategy is to work with academic departments to acquire reading lists and book lists earlier in order to attain larger numbers of titles and in turn have a larger buyback list. Others include providing students with more used books by ordering them wholesale and negotiating with publishers to get better prices and passing on those discounts to students.

    According to Turk, by negotiating with the publishers, prices of textbooks have been reduced by a total of $280,000 for the fall quarter.

    “”If we look at those three strategies for fall quarter, it would lower the cost of education by over $800,000,”” Turk said. “”Our goal this year is to save students $2 million on the price of their books.””

    Additionally, CalPIRG chapters from different UC schools are conducting their own research and launching the Cheaper Textbooks Campaign. One of the campaign’s goals is to convince faculty members to produce multiple syllabi for a course, which would ensure that older versions of textbooks stay on the market for a longer period of time.

    According to Turk, publishers tend to come out with new versions of books every three years. He said that this is due to the high demand for used books, and publishers need to get some of those used books out of the market in order to sell the newer books.

    “”There are areas where new editions are almost mandatory [and] there are areas where new editions tend to serve more the purpose of eliminating used books from the market. But when you have bioengineering, you don’t want to use a 10-year-old bioengineering book,”” UCSD Bookstore Course Materials Manager David Wilson said.

    The CalPIRG campaign also promotes competition in the college book markets in order to drive down the list price of used textbooks. Additionally, the campaign is urging publishers to use discretion in publishing new versions of textbooks, stop the practice of bundling additional materials with the books, or give bookstores the option of selling textbooks by themselves.

    “”[The campaign] is important because we can’t fight the tuition hike, and here’s an aspect of cost that we can fight,”” said Jared Brown, who is coordinating the campaign for UCSD’s chapter of CalPIRG. “”Textbook costs are something that can be changed.””

    The campaign also outlines that bookstores should guarantee to buy back all textbooks for 50 percent of the original value and sell it again for no more than 75 percent of the original value if the text is being used again for the following quarter.

    For UCSD, however, if a book ‹ whether it was originally bought as new or used ‹ is being adopted for the next term, the bookstore will buy back the book for half of the new price, according to Turk.

    “”That’s the best situation and it goes down from that,”” Turk said.

    CalPIRG met with UCSD Bookstore on Nov. 12 to dicuss the top-five textbooks sold on campus. The prices of these textbooks range from $37.35 to $134.70. Faculty members using the textbooks will be contacted and asked how new versions of these textbooks compare to older ones. One of the campaign’s goals is to collect data in order to further analyze the problem. The report is expected to be available by mid-January.

    Another CalPIRG-promoted method for students to save is the use of book-swapping services. According to A.S. Commissioner of Enterprise Operations Jeremy Cogan, he will be working with a new company called booksoncampus.com to start an online book swapping service for UCSD students. Through the Web site, students can list any book that they want to sell, at no charge. The list will then be made available to anyone at UCSD. Each transaction that connects a buyer to a seller would require a fee of $2.50 from the two parties. According to Cogan, the entire process is simple and the fee is small compared to the benefits that students would get from selling their books.

    “”I feel like it’s very important because there is no solution right now that students are feeling comfortable with,”” Cogan said. “”The only solution out there is selling back books to the bookstore and many of them feel like they’re not being treated fairly with that only solution.””

    Communication with booksoncampus.com is still underway. According to Cogan, negotiations on a contract will take place within the next few weeks, and he hopes to have the service operating by the start of winter quarter.

    According to Turk and other bookstore administrators, there are several ways for students to save further. These include making sure that a book is needed before purchasing, using books from the library reserves and selling books right away if they are not being used for the next term. They also emphasized the importance of shopping around as well as buying books early in order to have a better chance of finding used books.

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