Quick Takes: National Online Textbook Database

National System Welcomes Discounts

The cost of attending college is rapidly rising, and with it are the escalating costs of textbooks. The College Board has predicted that the average student at a four-year public university will spend $1,137 this year on textbooks alone. In 2007, the U.S. Department of Education’s Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance proposed the creation of a national digital marketplace that would reduce costs by uploading textbooks online. This idea is a necessary step towards affordability, as any reduction in textbook costs will provide welcome relief to already financially burdened students.

With its ease of access and promises of slashed prices, a national textbook database will discourage students from skimping on their required texts. The online system would allow students to do all the same things that can be done in a printed textbook, like highlighting passages — with the added plus that it would be much easier to search for key terms. Professors would also be able to create custom texts online, so students would not have to spend copious amounts of money on purchasing custom course readers. 

Pilot programs have yielded promising results. The Cal State system began testing out a service called the “Digital Marketplace” on several of its campuses in 2009. The program showed that 73 percent of students participated in the program, at a 65 percent cost reduction. This groundbreaking innovation could mark the first step towards providing students with the materials they need to succeed in their classes, at prices they can afford.

-Chelsey Davis
Staff Writer


Used Texts Need to be Fully Utilized


In an effort to make course materials more affordable for students, the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance proposed the development of a national electronic textbook clearinghouse. Although the clearinghouse would help lower the cost of textbooks in the long run, its implementation just isn’t feasible. The answer to cheaper textbooks lies in colleges utilizing more used textbooks, and fewer new editions.

Used textbooks are on average 25 percent cheaper than new editions, but only comprise 25 to 30 percent of textbooks on the market, according to the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance. The universities themselves have the ability to strengthen the market of used textbooks by implementing cost-effective initiatives. The University of Washington, for example, took the initiative to guarantee a buy-back service that allows students to sell back their books for up to 50 percent of their current price. Furthermore, the San Mateo County Community College District Bookstore enacted a policy of sending faculty reminders to turn in used textbooks, leading to a 27 percent increase in used textbook sales between 2004 and 2006. Initiatives such as these can save students hundreds of dollars.

Faculty can also commit to using the same textbook for multiple quarters, only switching to a new edition if significant changes have been made. This will strengthen the used textbook market, providing students with cheaper texts that will also encourage publishers to release fewer new editions.

The electronic national database is an ambitious idea but it is just not a feasible option. Alternatives such as using more used textbooks are both more easily implemented and cost-effective.

-Aleks Levin
Staff Writer

Database Can Work on Smaller Scale


The Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance recommended creating a national digital textbook database as a way to lower the cost of textbooks for students. However, pursuing a special national system is unnecessary because smaller entities are already developing their own systems, which can successfully reduce textbook prices.

 Sites like PostYourBook.com allow students to buy or trade used books with other students. The site was recently started at Santa Monica College and has spread across the UC system, as students are able to sell their books to each other with no middle man, enabling discounted prices for buyers and more profit than a university bookstore would pay the seller. 

Digital books show promise for reducing textbook costs. According to an IPRO report, digital textbooks can cut textbook costs by 30-50 percent. California State University launched a pilot digital textbook program on several of their campuses in 2009. Under this program, students were able to rent digital textbooks for $60, versus the average $173 they would pay for paper textbooks. New technology such as the Kindle and iPad make a future in digital books even more feasible, and are already being utilized in some schools for education.

It is not in the education system’s best interest to waste money and time pursuing a national database that may not even be efficient, when there are already successful cost-cutting methods in existence, and new technologies providing hope for further cost reduction.

-Chris Roteliuk
Staff Writer






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