Publisher responds to demands

    Major college textbook publishing company Thomson Learning recently launched two initiatives to offer lower prices for selected textbooks and provide digital versions of popular texts.

    The California Student Public Interest Research Group had cited Thomson Learning practices in a report released in January for using strategies that drive up textbook prices. The CalPIRG report found that the average UC student would spend about $900 on books this year.

    “I think Thomson Learning is making a huge first step,” CalPIRG Co-chair Matthew Reents said. “I think it’s important because we are already combating tuition fee hikes … but it doesn’t solve the problem.”

    Thomson Learning’s new Advantage Series will offer a selection of smaller and unbound alternatives that are at least 25 percent cheaper than hardcover textbooks, while Digital Discounts will make select texts available online for a limited time to students.

    According to Thomson Learning spokesman Adam Gaber, the initiatives are a direct response to increasing demands from students and faculty for lower textbooks.

    “It’s all about meeting market demand, about giving our customer what they’re asking for and giving them a choice,” Gaber said.

    CalPIRG reported in “Rip-off 101: How the Current Practices of the Publishing Industry Drive up the Cost of College Textbooks” that publishing companies such as Thomson Learning constantly release new versions of books with very little differences from the older version, and combine textbooks with additional items that the majority of students and professors do not use.

    “Constantly released new editions in the market makes it hard to sell books back and to find used books for a cheaper price,” Reents said. “Although it’s great that one of the biggest publishing companies is offering alternatives to textbooks, there’s definitely more to be done.”

    Instructors who adopt an Advantage Series textbook would allow students to buy compact editions and unbounded versions of the full-color textbook. The Advantage Series currently features 25 books.

    Promotions through Digital Discounts allow students to access learning tools and tutorials on the Web. Books included in the two initiatives are in the disciplines of humanities, behavioral and social sciences, sciences and mathematics.

    Mathematics professor Gaemus Collins said he is willing to sign on the Advantage Series. He added that other professors he has talked to would also use the new series.

    “I certainly support that,” Collins said. “The faculty that I’ve talked to definitely side with students and not with the company, and I think [the faculty] would prefer that the books not cost as much.”

    According to Gaber, the initiatives have been in the works since last year.

    “We’ve offered books like Advantage in the past, but typically instructors opt for the ‘fully loaded’ top-quality textbooks,” Gaber said.

    The CalPIRG report had used the Thomson Learning published book “Calculus — Early Transcendentals” as an example of how bundling can make textbook prices higher. According to the report, the new edition of the book cost $131 with bundling and few changes in the math problems, while a used version cost $20 to $90. However, “Calculus — Early Transcendentals” has not been added to the Advantage Series list.

    According to Collins, who uses the book for his class, an alternative would not make a difference in how students learn the material.

    “Books don’t need to be that expensive, and students can learn from old calculus books if they have to,” he said. “The expense is not necessary in learning.”

    More textbooks are expected to be added to the Advantage Series list, Gaber said.

    According to Reents, the initiatives have not been established long enough to know whether instructors will sign up to have the options available for their students.

    “We found that the math faculty is the most supportive in this effort to lower prices,” Reents said.

    According to Gaber, texts are also available online, but many instructors opt to have printed textbooks.

    “While advanced online solutions are available, the printed textbook is still most often the core-learning tool,” Gaber said.

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