Wednesday, July 05, 2006

States passing laws on textbook pricing practices

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports in the July 7, 2006 edition (link above in title) that "many state legislatures are passing laws designed to help students save money on course materials." The author, Ann K. Walters, cites to GAO and PIRG reports, without giving any more citation than that. Here are links, if you want to read the reports:

GAO Highlights Link

GAO Full Rpt. Link

PIRG Rpt. Link

I am reprinting a few snippets from those reports if you want a teaser before deciding to go to the links.

From the website summarizing the PIRG report:

Textbook prices are increasing at a fast rate.

* Textbook prices are increasing at more than four times the inflation rate for all finished goods, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Producer Price Index. The wholesale prices charged by textbook publishers have jumped 62 percent since 1994, while prices charged for all finished goods increased only 14 percent. Similarly, the prices charged by publishers for general books increased just 19 percent during the same time period.

New textbook editions are costly and limit the availability of used textbooks.

* The most widely purchased textbooks on college campuses have new editions published every three years, on average.

* New editions of the textbooks surveyed cost, on average, 45 percent more than used copies of the previous edition.

* When issuing new editions, most publishers raise the prices of their books. Of the textbooks surveyed, new textbook prices jumped 12 percent on average between the previous and current edition, almost twice the rate of inflation between 2000 and 2003 (6.8 percent).

* Three-fourths (76 percent) of the faculty surveyed in our 2004 report said that they found new editions justified only “half the time” or less.

Bundling drives up textbook costs.

* Half (50 percent) of the textbooks in the survey were sold “bundled,” or shrinkwrapped with additional instructional materials such as CD-ROMs and workbooks.

* When a bundled book is available for purchase unbundled (without the add-on materials), the bundled book is, on average, 10 percent more expensive than its unbundled counterpart. Some bundled textbooks are substantially more expensive. For example, a Thomson Learning chemistry textbook was 47 percent more expensive bundled ($223.75) than when sold as a separate textbook ($152.00).

* More than half of the bundled textbooks surveyed (55 percent) were not available for students to purchase a la carte, in which the textbook is available without the add-on materials.

* Two-thirds (65 percent) of the faculty surveyed in our 2004 report said that they used bundled items “rarely” or “never”.

Textbook publishers charge American students more than students overseas for the same textbooks.

* The average textbook surveyed costs 20 percent more in the United States than it does in the United Kingdom.

* Some textbooks were dramatically more expensive in the United States than in the United Kingdom. For example, Pearson’s Calculus textbook, selling for about $100 in the U.S., costs only $38 on the U.K. website, just one third the price. Freeman’s Chemical Principles textbook, priced at $185 in the U.S., is available in the U.K. for only $88—half the price.

* Some publishers display overseas prices on their websites. For example, Thomson Learning’s website lists the prices charged to students in the U.S., U.K., Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. According to this website, for the books included in our survey, Thomson Learning charges U.S. students 72 percent more, on average, than it does students in the U.K., Africa and Middle East. Some books are priced even higher. For example, Thomson Learning charges U.S. students $108 for its Biology textbook, but charges students in the U.K., Africa, and Middle East only $51 for the same book.

This report is a renewed call to the publishing industry to reform its practices. Publishers should:

* Produce and price textbooks to be as inexpensive as possible without sacrificing educational value;

* Produce new textbook editions only when educationally necessary;

* Offer faculty and students the option to purchase textbooks unbundled; and

* Provide faculty with more information on the company’s textbook materials, prices, intended length of time on the market and substantive content differences from previous editions.

Wow! As a student, I always suspected some of these facts, but clearly things are more out of control than ever. Pricing is becoming so inequitable that it reminds me of the spiraling prices for libraries. I wonder what it would take to get a GAO or PIRG report for library pricing?

The image of Calamari & Perillo's Contracts casebook, a law school classic, is from

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Another problem is that math text never have a chance to be "debugged" and are full of typos and mistakes!