Costly bells and whistles

Jessica Dreschel

Report confirms textbook extras are raising prices

Dan Dortona, sophomore criminal justice major, browses for books at the University Bookstore in the Student Center during Saturday’s sale on used books.

Credit: Ben Breier

Students’ wallets have been weighing less and less after purchasing textbooks, according to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office.

And increasing costs of supplemental offerings like CD-ROMs and study guides are the main reason.

The report, which was released in mid-August, found that since 1986 textbook prices have increased by 186 percent. The Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, also found that tuition and fees increased by 240 percent and overall prices grew by 72 percent.

“Publishers are responding to demands from professors and students,” said Cornelia Ashby, director of education, workforce and income security for the office.

Not just supply and demand

Textbook pricing is unique because it is not the same as typical supply and demand economics, Ashby said. Although students purchase textbooks, they are not a good measure of demand, she said.

Professors choose books required for class, making them the ultimate consumer, Ashby said. Books with more bells and whistles like CD-ROMs and other supplements have a higher price tag, she said.

For some instructors, textbook extras take a back seat to the book’s actual content.

“I look at the quality of a textbook and try to get the best book for my students,” said associate accounting professor Linda Zucca.

Zucca said she uses few supplements, so they do not factor in heavily on her textbook choices. However, for Zucca, one supplement is important.

“If there is no Web site for the book, I won’t use it,” she said.

According to the Government Accountability Office report, other factors affecting textbook prices include “production costs, availability of used books and the demand for textbooks.”

The report also suggests that bundling supplements with new textbooks “limits the students’ ability to purchase less expensive used books.”

Retailer Hal DuBois, manager of DuBois Book Store in Kent, keeps close watch on textbook supplements.

“It’s our job to make sure faculty gets what they want and students get what they need,” DuBois said.

Supplements sold with new textbooks have the potential to reduce buyback price, DuBois said.

Although textbooks may be used, they will not be able to be bought again in the next semester without their included supplements. That means they will be bought back for less money, DuBois said.

Cheaper options exist

However, instructors concerned about textbook prices have alternatives.

“Book cost can be lowered by selecting other options,” said Bryon Gordon, assistant director of education, workforce and income security for the Government Accountability Office. “Faculty has the final say in which books they would like to use.”

Those other options include choosing older editions or selecting books without supplements, Gordon said.

Customized books also are an option for instructors, said Dean Kline of Campus Book and Supply.

“Some publishers can customize books and remove certain chapters that the professor doesn’t think will be used,” Kline said.

The drawback is while these books cost less for students to buy, they have to be purchased directly from the publisher and are rarely able to be reused, Kline said.

And there are ways students can save money as well.

DuBois advises students to shop for textbooks earlier in the day. Usually that means there will be a bigger selection, DuBois said.

Kline said students should be able to get more money at buyback if they sell their books as soon as they are done using them. Retailers know how many of each book they will need for the next semester. When they fill that quota, prices will go down, Kline said.

Contact business reporter Jessica Dreschel at [email protected].