A Textbook Case of High Prices
The Aug. 20 front-page story "Break on Cost of Textbooks Unlikely Before Last Bell, 2010," about the astronomical rise in textbook costs,
revealed some of the suspect packaging and marketing schemes publishers use to boost their profits at the expense of economically stretched college students.
Another practice that publishers use to fleece customers is the frequent release of new editions of textbooks. With the essential material basically unchanged, these "new editions" feature minimal updated information and may merely contain updated graphics and photos that affect only the aesthetics of the books but that require most students to buy new.
As a result, the $250 anatomy textbook you bought for a four-month class now can't be used for the next semester, eliminating any return for one student and any chance of a cheaper, used textbook for another.
Why do people think sales of used books have been increasing? It is hard to enough to pay tuition, fees, and room and board before considering textbook costs. At least students can budget for the former; buying textbooks is a horrifying surprise each semester.
Maybe it's all a vicious cycle -- students turn to used books to save a little precious cash, and publishers raise prices to maintain their fat margins -- but it seems overly simplistic to blame used books for high textbook prices. Perhaps publishers would be better served by getting in on the used-book market instead of trying fight it.