To buy or not to buy

The question about college textbooks: why are they so expensive and why do we need to buy them?

Textbooks are standard works used for the study of a particular subject. At Winthrop University, there is a ten-out-of-ten chance that a student will have to buy one. But there is a catch; their price is highly inflated, making them extremely overpriced. According to the National Survey of Student Engagement, about one in four freshmen and one in three seniors did not buy textbooks solely because of cost. During a semester, I spend at least $500 in the bookstore for just textbooks and access codes alone. Why should I pay so much for five textbooks?

College textbook publishers charge unreasonable amounts of money for one reason — because they can. They know students will have courses that absolutely require the textbook. Furthermore, the books (and access codes) are price insensitive, so if the prices go up, the demand doesn’t go down as much as it should. Publishers know that at the end of the day, no matter how angry the student gets, they are still required to purchase the textbook. This is  especially apparent for major-specific courses, whose textbooks are the most expensive.

Publishers have other sneaky ways that they keep the books so expensive. They know that before the student buys a book, they have to win over the professor to build book loyalty. Professors rarely change courses often, so once they plan their entire syllabus around the textbook, they will be reluctant to redesign the course around another textbook.

In addition, publishers make it hard to lower prices of textbooks for students by coming out with a brand new edition every year. They do this not because there is new, pressing information that needs to be in the book, but so they can limit the second-hand market, preventing students from buying used textbooks from other students. They’ve even gone so far that when universities allow price matching for students, there are so many rules for what price you can get the textbook for and where it can come from. At Winthrop, you can only use Chegg and Amazon. Now that’s just manipulative.

But what if I buy the textbook or access code and I come to class on the first day, and the professor says that I won’t need it? Luckily for Winthrop students, if the packaging is still on, you can get a full refund. However, what about access codes? What if I already ripped off the concealing plastic because I was so excited for class and couldn’t wait to get into the material? Every year, students make huge investments in textbooks, not knowing if they’ll actually be used or helpful, just as entrepreneurs make investments in products. Unfortunately, if that packaging is off, there is nothing retailers can do. If you do return it to the bookstore, you’ll only receive half of your money back. But why should that be fair? I didn’t buy half of a textbook.

The amount of money that students have to invest in textbooks is absurd. Fortunately, some professors do their best to avoid requiring for the students to purchase these pricey books. However, there should be another way to get the materials needed for a class without burning  holes in the pockets of college students.

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