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Thursday, January 14, 2010

How to Save Money on Textbooks: Not So Easy

Textbook prices. This is a scary subject. I don't really know too much about the business end, but I think textbooks are extremely lucrative for publishers. They can charge what they want because you gotta have them. I got a glimpse of the business side recently when I heard that one of the publisher's reps, a very corporate type with power suits who had appeared on Jeopardy, was reassigned, after losing our order.

As my devoted readers know, my frugality extends beyond my immediate family, to the world at large. So I was always aware of the cost of the books I was ordering. But most teachers have no idea. At my current institution, frugality is built in. We have a textbook rental system, whereby students pay only $18.00 per course for up to two books! Given that language, math, and science books range now from $150.00-$200.00, with $50.00 or more for the flimsy workbooks that accompany them, you can see that this represents a huge savings. In fact, quite a few students say that the rental system--which the other state schools did not adopt--is what attracted them to the school in the first place.

In fact, the textbook industry reminds me of the drug industry; well-dressed reps who show up at your place of employ, sometimes with pizza (better lunches at doctor's offices). Customers who HAVE TO HAVE THE PRODUCT. And doctors/teachers who have no idea of the cost of what they just ordered.

I don't think we're allowed to get pizza anymore, incidentally. I have heard reports on NPR outlining how professors are offered trips for research or author credits and so forth. That's not the case at my school as far as I know.

My children are at colleges where they have to buy textbooks. Tomorrow: a report on my successes and failures in getting them textbooks at reasonable (i.e. "reasonable") prices.

8 comments:

hostess of the humble bungalow said...

I was gobsmacked when I went to the University book store with my kids, textbooks were generally $200 each and they changed the courses so often used texts were not an option. Your comparison to the drug companies is brilliant!

Duchesse said...

My sons' textbooks were in the $45-$55 range, think there would be a riot over $200 books. Of course that generates an underground business in illegal photocopies. If you wonder what it really costs to print and bind a book, see the self-publishing site Lulu.com!

SewingLibrarian said...

As a community college librarian I am outraged at the price of textbooks AND at the rapidity with which publishers issue new editions. Very few fields of knowledge require new editions every two years, certainly not the humanities or basic mathematics. Clearly, the intent is to prevent students from selling and buying used books. My college, with the help of a fundraising group, has started to buy books and put them in the library on reserve. Students can use the books for two hours at a time if they can't afford to purchase the book themselves. Many students have told me how much they appreciate this practice. I realize publishers have expenses and need to make a profit, but they regard students and their parents as "cash cows."

Mike said...

A few things of note here.

There are options for students to save money on their books. Unfortunately, as not many schools have rental programs like yours yet, they just happen to be online.

I worked with a start-up called TextbookRenter.com that compares all major rental sites along with the best purchase and resale prices online. Sometimes, it's not the best option to even rent, which the site shows to students to help them save as much money as possible. I'm a recent grad wishing this existed during my time, because I often hung around the library waiting for reserves just to get by. In fact, there were some quarters when I found myself having to skip out on getting a book completely. It's a real possibility for many students out there now.

This industry is definitely messed up and stacked against the students (and, unfortunately, their education). We are pretty proud of the site now, though I've since moved on from there for greener pastures. Still, I think it's worth taking a peek if you know students who have the misfortune of not having a school with a rental program of their own.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Hostess--The standard assumption is that books cost around $500/semester. This is a huge understatement.

@Duchesse--Hmmmm. Maybe it is like the drug companies and Canadians pay lower prices???? My son in France has one textbook and it cost 14 euros.

@Sewing: This is wonderful. We suggested to our kids that they share books with friends, but, for some reason, this is socially unacceptable.

@Mike--I was surprised by how expensive it is to rent books. As I mentioned, my school bookstore charges $18/course. Chegg, for instance, was in the $50s and up for many books.

User said...

I have spent $450 and more on undergraduate textbooks, some of which I found couldn't be sold back at the end of the semester (or weren't worth more than $10 or so). Recently I've resorted to the risky business of buying earlier additions and crossing my fingers in hopes that it covers the same material as the others.
I have a 2nd edition and 3rd edition of the same book and the material is not much different. For some classes, it's entirely possible to get by with an older edition... unless the instructor is using problems directly out of the book. How do the students decide which books/courses are okay for buying older editions? I don't know. If there were some collective reviews available that would be soooo helpful, but who has the time to do that?

Is there anyone actually comparing new editions to older editions? I don't think so. Publishers can mix a few things up and reorder the chapters and sell the same book for $100 more.... Horrible.

No one is there to check this practice.

Frugal Scholar said...

@user--That is a gret idea. I suppose older editions become worthless so it is no big deal to take a chance. The thing that shocked me was the online access code--that effectively makes it impossible to get a used book.

j.stawarz said...

We use Chegg.com to rent textbooks and save a lot of cash! I wanted to share a promotional code that your readers can use to get a discount on their text order. Put in the code when ordering and hit the "apply" button. The code also gives you back an additional $5 when selling Chegg your used texts.

The code does NOT have an expiration date so it can be used every time you order. Here it is:

CC123047

I hope your readers find this useful!