Rising Textbook Prices: Who is at Fault?

This paper will analyze the article titled “A New Model for Textbook Pricing,” written by Michael H. Granof. The purpose is to discuss the various reasons behind the recent increase in United States college textbook prices, and who is to blame for the rising costs. The textbook industry has taken most of the blame for the current rise in textbook prices due to being the book publishers. Granof cites several reasons to show the textbook industry is at fault. Three of these reasons are the marketing of the textbooks, prematurely changing editions, and needless supplements that increase the cost of the text itself.

While many critics point the proverbial finger at textbook publishers, some say that universities are to blame. Legislatures in Georgia have proposed legislation to limit the markup a university or college bookstore can add per new text (Granof, 2005).

Nationally the average college student at a state university spends nine hundred dollars annually on textbooks, which is about 26 percent of the total cost of tuition and fees, says the Government Accountability Office, a fact that has been supported by the California Student Public Interest Research Group (CSPIRG) (Bartlett, 2005). The Association of American Publishers (AAP) disputes this claim, saying that students only spend six hundred dollars annually on the texts (Bartlett).

Granof has cited the textbook publishing industry as marketing textbooks in the same manner as they market trade books. Two distinguishing features separate trade books and textbooks, says Granof. The first is that a student wants to buy the trade book, while being required to buy the textbook by a professor. The second is that the purchaser often keeps a book bought for pleasure, whereas used textbooks transfer hands daily across campuses nationwide. Due to the resale of textbooks, publishers produce a new revision of each text every three to four years (Granof). Although some subjects require new texts this rapidly, such as calculus or chemistry, most do not. Along with these revisions, publishers often attach expensive supplemental materials to textbooks that in turn force the price higher.

When a revised textbook is published, almost all copies will be sold to students. Most college and university bookstores markup the publisher’s price by 25 percent and some critics say that is too high (Milliot & Mutter, 2003). When a publisher offers a book for $115, the markup by a college or university bookstore would raise the cost to about $145. A full time course load in most states is 12 hours, four classes for three hours per. Some classes require multiple texts, meaning that for three classes the average college student purchases six books. Six books for $145 per is $870 spent on one semester’s worth of books. If the markup were limited to 15 percent per text, the total would be about $795, which is a difference of almost $100 (Milliot).

Textbook publishing is a $62.8 billion a year industry says the National Association of College Stores (Bartlett). This alone is motive enough for industry tycoons to take interest and attempt to devise ways to increase their income. Current marketing plans for textbooks are similar to the style of trade book marketing plans, when they should not be. Granof gives two specific reasons proving that textbooks are different from trade books. When a person buys a book at the local bookstore, it is because the buyer wants to read it. When a student purchases a textbook for class, it is not because they desire the textbook; it is because the professor requires them to have it. Secondly, the purchaser of a trade book will keep it longer than a textbook (Granof).

Granof is correct in stating that when publishers release new versions of texts, most professors change their requirements to include the new text, even though on most occasions the new text does not have any new information, with the exception being fields such as calculus and chemistry. “Obviously,” writes Granof, “the publication of a new edition results in a huge waste of time and money on the part of authors and publishers. Students ultimately bear the costs of such profligacy in excessively high prices.” Not only due publishers release too frequent revisions of the same book, but they attach unneeded supplements, such as cd-roms, that push the price even higher. An estimated 65 percent of professors do not use the supplements that come with the books, making the supplements a 65 percent waste of money (Bartlett).

The current average mark-up by a university bookstore is 25 percent of the publisher’s price. Granof states that the proposal for government enforced markup limits is “truly misguided.” Most universities and colleges offer a ten percent reduction in the cost to students for the textbooks, which at the end of the year are refunded with the submission of a sales receipt. The university bookstores that offer this end up with a markup of 15 percent (Granof). When compared to the average 35 to 50 percent mark-up on most college apparel and souvenirs (Granof), the fault of high prices does not seem to lie so much with the universities themselves, but with the original publisher’s price.

There are many sides to the textbook pricing debate, but the evidence proves that the fault lie with the publishing industry, not with universities. The author’s arguments were well supported and correct and the textbook publishing industry itself must lower the prices before it will make a significant effect. The industry is responsible for its marketing plans, the continuous premature editions of existing texts, and the attached supplements that increase the cost of the textbooks.

Reference Page

Bartlett, Thomas. (2005). Report Blames Add-Ons for Rise in Textbok Prices.
Washington: Sep 2, 2005. Vol. 52, Iss. 2; p. A45. Retrieved September 14,
2005 from GALILEO database.

Granof, Michael H. (2004). A New Model for Textbook Pricing. Chronicle of
Higher Education: Nov 26, 2004. Vol. 51, Iss. 14, p. B16-B18. Retrieved
September 19, 2005 from GALILEO database.

Milliot, Jim & John Mutter. (2003). Textbook Prices Ignite Industry Dispute.
Publishers Weekly: Oct 27, 2003. Vol. 250, Iss. 43, p. 5-8. Retrieved
October 2, 2005 from GALILEO database.

Mutter, John. (2005). Textbooks Prices Draw More Attacks. Publishers Weekly:
Feb 7, 2005. Vol. 252, Iss. 6, p. 8. Retrieved October 16, 2005 from
GALILEO database.

Orlans, Harold. (2004). Costly Science Texts. Changes: May/June 2005. Vol. 26,
Iss. 3, p. 8. Retrieved September 29, 2005 from GALILEO database.

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