Thursday, January 10, 2008

Textbook Prices: Professors To Blame.

When students gripe about the costs of textbooks (like the hundred and sixty dollars I spent yesterday for one class!), the finger is nearly always pointed at the school bookstore. I'm looking in a different direction: the professors.

School bookstores do make a profit off of selling used and new textbooks. A profit that is used to pay the salaries a few staff members and the bulk towards providing jobs on campus for students. Look at a school bookstore. There are dozens of students working shifts that cater to their class schedule and maybe five permanent 'adult' staff members. The rest of the profit incurred goes towards paying students to shelve books at the library and providing other jobs for students that the state budget doesn't have room for.

The small profit the bookstore makes doesn't begin to compare to what the professors gain. Professors are wined, dined and catered to by publishing companies. Ever wonder why some professors don't use textbooks or pick one that is relatively low in cost while others require a pricey new edition every year? Collusion between faculty and publishing houses has existed for years. Based on privileged knowledge, I know for a fact that one professor accepted a new flat-screen plasma television in return for switching to a different textbook at Mount San Antonio College. Other professors receive lump sums, such as Amy Staples did to the tune of four grand.

Students suffer when professors accept bribes and kickbacks from textbook companies. By using a new edition, students are unable to sell their edition back to the school bookstore. School bookstores can't purchase them because they can only carry on the shelves the textbooks the professors are requiring. If the professor requires the new sixth edition, the bookstore can't sell the used version of the fifth. Furthermore, by requiring a new edition, students have no opportunity to buy the book at a lower used price. Students are being ripped off by the greed of professors.

The absolute worst comes from professors who require their own books to be purchased by students; books that they directly receive royalties from. How ethical is that? The same goes for departments that decide to use a book that was penned by the department and furthermore refuse to allow the bookstore to buy back copies, demanding that only new ones be bought.

Universities need to put an end to professors accepting kickbacks and bribes by textbook companies. It's hard to fathom that even state-run schools turn a blind eye to the situation and allow the practice to go on. I could accept it a little more easy out of private schools, but out of state schools it's disgusting. Even when the practice is brought up by the faculty of school bookstores, the idea of banning it is promptly shut down. It explains why so many professors dislike the campus bookstore.

Joseph Gray put it succinctly when he said:
Our governments investigate businesses like Microsoft, phone companies and
satellite radio companies over concerns about monopolistic practices, price
fixing and dirty deals. What about taking a look at the textbook industry?


Julie the Graduate said...

I had no idea that there were so many incentives for professors to choose certain books! I think at my school most use books written by their friends or professors that they've worked with in the past.
I completely agree about professors using their own books. I think that it hurts the students in non-financial ways too since then they don't get the benefit of two different points of view in class and in the text.

Escape Brooklyn said...

That's such a good analysis of the textbook thing. I remember paying full price for a book written by the professor, only to have her assign a mere 10 pages of reading from it! Why on earth couldn't she just photocopy those few pages for us students?

The other thing that drives me nuts is when professors wait until the first class to give students the reading list. Since readings are usually due for the second class, students often have no choice but to pay inflated prices at the school book store instead of having extra time to shop for cheaper options (usually online) or reserve books at the public library.

My husband goes through this every semester in his grad program. Last semester he finally decided not to buy any books at all (meaning he didn't do any assigned readings). You know, he finished the semester with one B+ and four A's anyway?

The Coupon Fetcher said...

Professors profiting off the sale of textbooks, are you kidding me? That is the first time I have ever heard of this. That is totally ridicuous.

Frugal Duchess said...


I had no idea. The scenario that you lay out mirrors the set-up between drug companies and doctor's offices.

Thanks for such an informative post and thanks for stopping by earlier this week.
Best Wishes,

Art Dinkin said...

I can not dispute anything you say, but I can report that I teach at a college. No one has ever offered me money or things to switch text books.

Not to say that I would not doubt the practice exists. I am overwhelmed with emails, calls, and letters. The worse is when the publishers even THINK you are considering a change, they send you boxes and boxes of sample texts... like I can read them all.

I find it frustrating that my students have to shell out big bucks for a book, but the publisher is giving away unwanted samples which drive up prices!

Free From Broke said...

None of this surprises me. I had a course years ago where the professor was still writing the book. We had to buy photocopied chapters to study. He would give us extra credit if we pointed out any mistakes to him. Not only was he gonna get paid but his students were his free editors too!

Anonymous said...

I'm concerned that college teachers are using double negatives, let alone whoring their recommendations for dollars.