Yet once more* the college textbook cost theme. Funny About Money wrote about it; I have taken on the issue several times. Now the New York Times has taken on the issue, with opinions from many experts.
Why are textbooks so expensive? Because they can be. Because the price is lost amid other expenses. Because people might be paying with borrowed money, which, sadly, may be seen as "funny money." (It's not.) One of the experts in the New York Times piece compared the textbook industry to BIG PHARMA: the people who "prescribe" (doctors, teachers) have no idea what the item (drug, book) costs. The purchaser (patient, student) has to suck it up. Well, guess what! I made this analogy on this very blog ages ago. And I'm not an emeritus professor of economics. I feel so, well, thrilled.
I may have an unusual perspective: I am a teacher, but my school has a rental system: students pay only $18.00 per course, for up to two textbooks. So I am NOT GUILTY! I am also a parent of two college students, however, and their schools do not participate in the rental system.
I have discovered that trying to save money on textbooks is like aiming for a moving target. All the strategies work--sometimes, sort of, but don't count on it.
--Buy it and sell it when you're done: Good idea, but textbook publishers try to circumvent the used book market. I bought a 2008 Art History text at Goodwill a few days ago as a test case. At a quarter, it was not a big investment. This book sold for $115.00 new. It is now in a new edition. New editions also often come out in October or February, thereby making your recently purchased text worthless.
--Buy on Amazon: Textbook sellers are not dumb. Unless the book is getting near its new edition date, it is likely to be pretty expensive.
--Rent from Chegg: If you look at their rental prices, you will see that this is not a cheap route.
And so on. I have spent HOURS trying to get books cheaper, with little success. Here is one example: My daughter needed a French book last year. It was $175.00. I found a used copy at Powells for $75.00. Did I save $100.00? Guess again.
On the first day of class, the teacher announced that students needed a current computer access code for the text. These came with the new books. For those who bought used...the code cost $100.00!
I have loads of similar stories, which I will bore you with only on request. It is a dreary tale. Just don't believe all that cheery advice on "buying used" and "renting from Chegg." If my experience is any indication, you won't save much money.
So...what am I doing this year? Well, the tax code changed in 2009. The first $2000.00 in educational expenses gets a tax credit. For most people, this is eaten up by tuition and fees. However, if you are on tuition scholarship (Hope in Georgia, TOPS in Louisiana) or at a junior college with low costs, you can now--as of 2009--get the tax credit for books. Thank you Congress! Feel my love.
*Yet once more: The opening words of Lycidas, a pastoral elegy by John Milton, which has an academic theme.