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Thursday, Sept. 22, 2005 07:19 pm

The great textbook robbery

College students are a captive market for greedy publishers

In recent weeks, on campuses all across America, students have been enrolling in university. Ah, what an experience — the camaraderie of college spirit, the titillating possibilities of higher learning! Then these eager innocents go to buy their textbooks, and — wham! — the dispiriting reality of corporate greed whacks them upside the head. Students, already beleaguered by skyrocketing tuition and fees, now face sticker shock when purchasing required texts. A congressional study finds that students today are averaging $900 per semester for books. A watchdog group called CALPIRG has issued a report called Ripoff 101, documenting that the giant publishers are raising prices of college texts at a rate three times higher than the prices of general books.
CALPIRG finds three main reasons for the inflated costs. One, the publishers issue new, higher-priced editions every three years or so, even though there’s little substantive change in the material. Second, at least half of the books are now sold “bundled” with unnecessary CD-ROMs and flashy workbooks that drastically bloat the price — even though two-thirds of college faculty say that they “rarely” or “never” use these add-ons. Third, publishers jack up the price simply because they can. Students are a captive market. Professors say, “Buy this book,” and there’s little choice but to pay the ripoff price. Also, like drug companies, publishers have been charging Americans more than they charge consumers overseas. On average, the exact same books cost 20 percent more here than in England, for example. In many cases, the overcharge is much greater — a calculus textbook, for example, sells for $132 here but only $62 in Britain. The good news is that students, some faculty, and a few lawmakers are fighting the gouging. To learn what steps you can take, go to this Web site: www.maketextbooksaffordable.com.
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