Textbook sales: one big rip-off

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  • Ned
    Sept. 19, 2007 11:28 p.m.

    "In theory, students can sell their books back to the bookstore at the end of the semester and get about half their money back"

    Right. And according to Yogi, "In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is." or something to that effect.

    BTW, I don't know how it is on other campuses, and I don't know the details of how it works here, but the bookstore at BYU is something of an autonomous entity that cooperates with the school. It does its own hiring and management, and makes its own profits. But the school is not funded by those sales. I don't know what the school does get out of it, but the staff tells me the cost of the books has nothing to do with funding the departments that require them for class. Yes, sometimes a professor has authored a book and requires it to be bought, but that is between him and the publisher, not the school per se. Whatever. I still agree that it is quite the racket.

  • Jason Day
    Sept. 18, 2007 1:12 p.m.

    If I ever attended college again I would buy the second to last edition of the text books from Amazon or Ebay. They really don't change much with new editions and you can always copy the book assignments (problems) from other class mates. Then you can keep the book for future reference without feeling ripped off. Many classes rarely refer to the books anyway. In my senior year I went through several classes without purchasing the books. My grades didn't suffer and neither did my pocketbook.

  • Anonymous
    Sept. 18, 2007 12:42 p.m.

    Here is a kicker for all of you. I had a professor write a novel for our Music 101 class. It had 0 educational value. It was a love story between a guy and a music major. The problem was that it had tear out worksheets in it and he would not take photocopies of the worksheets. You had to pay 40.00 for this book (this was 10 years ago) and could not return it at all. The class probably had 150 students in it a semester. That professor was brining in the $$$$ with this great idea.

  • Starving Student
    Sept. 18, 2007 12:13 p.m.

    I'm really glad that you wrote this article, I just wrote a paper in class touching on the same subject. It's frustrating enough working, going to school, and paying tuition. Especially when you can almost spend a whole paycheck on books alone. How can we as students have a say over the price of text books when we dont even have any institutionalized way to exert our own market power? Why do we need so many editions of the same book? How drastically does the Spanish language change every few years so that it requires an 'overhaul' in regards to the textbooks? Students just need to boycott one college and university at a time, because without us, none of them would be making money in the first place.

  • NOT Eric
    Sept. 18, 2007 12:09 p.m.

    Never really thought of Doug's column as being a reporter from a journalistic standpoint. Most of the time he is on the lite-side and I don't think this column is any different.

    However, sometimes when we get a little too close to the true with humor it tends to cause offense. If you were offended, sorry, the rest of us will recognize that this is now a subject that can't be discussed in our overly-PC society.

    Thanks Doug for reminding all of us how much we hated paying for the books that were rarely used and over-priced. I look at my office shelves and see many of those that I refused to take the pitance offered during the buy-back. I figured that in a real crisis it might at least offer an hours worth of heat or serve as toilet-fodder.

  • College Grad
    Sept. 18, 2007 10:08 a.m.

    Universities use to be the place for higher learning and education. Along the way, they forgot what they were supposed to be and became a place to make money. From the bookstores, to the "student fees", to the research grants, it is all about money, not the students. Universities now offer stupid degrees that make no sense and offer very little to the collective population as a whole. Why should I pay thousands of dollars each year to be taught by a teachers assistant who mearly is a student a year or two a head of me. It is a racket!!!

  • Eric Laker
    Sept. 18, 2007 9:52 a.m.


    I typically enjoy your columns, but I have to take issue with today's. Using anecdotal
    information to tell a story is fine. However, if your are using anecdotes to cast
    aspersions at individuals or even an industry, an honest journalist would also include
    information that was as objective as possible, as well as comments from the individual or
    industry being attacked. If you are going to use subjective information from one side,
    you should also use it for the other.

    You might have answered the following questions:
    Who makes money on textbooks, and how much? How do these margins compare to similar
    industries? (At what margin does something become "one big rip-off"?)
    What does it cost to print a high quality text book in (often) very low quantities?
    How much should a professor make for spending months or years writing about knowledge
    gained through a career's work?
    What is education worth? (Is the knowledge gained from a $120 textbook worth four
    times as much as that from a $30 novel?)
    What is information worth? (When was the last time you sold back your used software?)
    Why is the internet sometimes so much cheaper? (Hint: It has almost nothing to do
    with margins.)

    If it is any consolation, an opinion like yours appears about once a year in just about
    every college paper in the country.

    Remember that the less experienced public actually believe much of what they read on a
    subject. I know that I have often believed what you have written on topics with which I
    was less familiar. That gives you a tremendous responsibility. Please save opinions for
    the proper section of the paper.

    Thank you,

    Eric Laker

  • bsinut
    Sept. 18, 2007 9:29 a.m.

    It was the same when my dad went to the U. It was the same when I went to the U. I have degrees in geology and engineering. The books were very expensive. It will always be so. Text books are very expensive to produce and distribute and there are a lot of people out there with advanced degrees writing new text books because they have nothing else to do. It a very lucrative business because of the captive audience. It won't change until the students refuse to by the expensive books (how about protesting that instead of George Bush). I got by in several classes using earlier editions of the required text book. In other classes I never bought the book at all and either researched topics at the library or bought textbooks on the same subject by a different author.

    If the universities and the publishing companies were interested in cutting costs for students they'd produce the textbooks in digital format. But that would cut out the printers, the teamsters, the bookstore, and the university from the $$$ equation.

    There are too many people with university degrees anyway. The BS degree has become the new high school diploma. My advice to 18 year olds is to learn a trade. You'll likely make more money in your lifetime and you'll be a producing member of society instead of some textbook writing pHD whose lifework will be old news next quarter.

  • MEB
    Sept. 18, 2007 8:53 a.m.

    Great article. This is one of the biggest and longest lasting scams in all of education. It's meant to pad the meager salaries of the poor professors. I can't imagine only getting paid $80K or more per year to teach for 12 hours per week. The rest of the time they can do meaningless studies and research. So they get paid their salaries while they write these over priced textbooks.

    Right on, Doug! The more this gets talked about, the more chance there is of influencing a change.

  • Mr. Honesty?
    Sept. 18, 2007 8:46 a.m.


    What "your friend" Jessica did is illegal at best and immoral at worst. No different than if she had gone into the store and shoplifted the book. Unreasonable prices on textbooks is not a justification for stealing them.

    "Beat the Bookstore" can save you a few bucks on books. The best option is to buy online, as long as you end up with the correct edition and can get the book soon enough.

    Students need to develop their own network of selling used books.

  • Stenar
    Sept. 18, 2007 8:04 a.m.

    My friend Jessica used to photocopy her textbooks and then return them to the bookstore. It was actually cheaper to pay for all the photocopies than the $200 for her civil engineering books.