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Bang for your Buck: On the cost of textbooks

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The past few years in the U.S. have seen an unprecedented rise in the cost of highschool and college textbooks, with students having to pay out up to $500 (£378) to ensure they have the necessary reading for class each semester. Gradually rising in price since the 1970s, some students are now saying regardless of wanting to do well they simply can’t afford to invest in the books they need.

Image credit: weisanjiang via Pixabay

Naturally this is frustrating in the disadvantage it causes, there being an unfair distribution of the necessary information if some can invest in the required reading and others cannot. This lack of access to the reading lists can even cost students up to 20% of their grade.

Conversations around the reason for the hefty prices of college textbooks are currently pointing the finger at the publishers themselves. With 4 publishing companies dominating the market in America, it seems that exclusivity in content published and remaining the most mainstream collection of publications despite this is the main issue.

Professors in U.S. colleges are now attempting to dodge this issue so that their students can continue to keep up their GPA and learn as much as possible. The solution they’re seeking out to achieve this? Digital textbooks.

Significantly cheaper than the tangible alternative, ebooks are proving to be the alternative teachers and publishing companies alike are pushing as attempts are made to reign in print costs.There is however the drawback of a virtual copy being something students can’t sell on second hand to the students of next year, which could mean this attempt to decrease student spending might only lead to another rise in the absence of second hand copies.

There is also one other option. As stated in a recent article by Vox, students are increasingly irritated by the paradoxical situation of being given less in the education they’re pursuing despite paying more than ever. Because of this, students are working together in attempts to make textbooks free online and to ensure their classmates get the materials they need using digital access codes which come inside the books. This is seemingly the only other alternative for students who despite perhaps having scholarships and loans to cover their living costs are provided no financial support when it comes to their academic resources.

As a British student this story matters to me for many reasons, primarily because whilst my books are not nearly as expensive as $500 I do still end up spending over £100 on books every year for my degree in English Literature, despite already spending £9,250 a year in tuition. Whilst my course is a fantastic one and has helped me so much, I can't help but be angered that when I get out of university I will have both tuition debt and the cost of my books on my shoulders.

There are only so many library copies of the content I and every other studetn in my class need, and I appreciate being able to analyse my copy as needed in relation to assignments. Though there is more funding coming into place in the U.K. now, when I was studying abroad in the Netherlands a singular textbook cost me £60, so it is clear that pricey resources aren’t limited to the United States alone.

In my opinion, the best way that textbook prices can start to be brought down is in the hands of the publishers, and I can summarise that advice in three words: Don’t. Revise. Annually.

Whilst I appreciate as a scholar that facts are constantly being tested and new discoveries are always being made, an annual change to textbooks is not really necessary unless there are glaring errors. I evidence this claim by the number of typos I spot regularly in such books that nobody cared enough about to have every copy of that book withdrawn and updated.

Biannual revisions on the other hands would be better in that it would mean secondhand copies would remain a viable option every year and also, costs might then be worth emptying pockets for instead of finding the only difference is an extra chapter.




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