Why University Textbooks Are So Expensive


Thu, Jan 10th, 2013 10:00 by capnasty NEWS

Armed with a Bureau of Labor Statistics graph showing the increase in the cost of school textbooks by 812% since 1978, The Atlantic's Jordan Weissmann opines that the rising prices can be attributed to one thing: publishers' greed.

Just as doctors prescribe prescription drugs they'll never have to pay for, college professors often assign titles with little consideration of cost. Students, like patients worried about their health, don't have much choice to pay up, lest they risk their grades. Meanwhile, Carey illustrates how publishers have done just about everything within their power to prop up their profits, from bundling textbooks with software that forces students to buy new editions instead of cheaper used copies, to suing a low-cost textbook start-ups over flimsy copyright claims.

And from Kevin Carey's article on Slate:

The problem for book publishers -- and for colleges themselves -- is that the first system is much more profitable and more replaceable than the second. Calculus hasn't changed much since Newton and Leibniz invented it in the 17th century. Yet there have been seven editions of James Stewart's best-selling Calculus (list: $245.95), the profits from which allowed Stewart to build a $24 million home with its own concert hall. And you don't need calculus to calculate how much money colleges make by charging hundreds of students sitting in a lecture hall standard tuition rates, minus the negligible cost of an adjunct lecturer standing in the well. By contrast, nobody is going to create an open-source replacement for the Quintessence of long-time Harvard philosopher W.V. Quine. But not that many people are going to buy that book, either, or pay very much for it. (List: $26.50.)

So it's not surprising that textbook publishers have filed the equivalent of the Recording Industry Association of America's infamous lawsuit against the first MP3 music player. That's what you do when your rents are threatened: use them to hire good lawyers.



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