Students blast textbook costs

The days of $100 textbooks may be in the past, if student lobbyists get their way.

Chico State students are joining an effort opposing the hefty costs of college textbooks in a campaign organized by the California State Students Association, of which the Associated Students is a member.

The CSSA points to a recent study, “Rip Off 101,” conducted by the California Public Interest Research Group. CalPIRG reported that college students spend an average of $898 per year on textbooks.

“We identified the publishers as the real problem here,” said Merriah Fairchild, higher-education advocate for CalPIRG and author of the report, in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. The issue came to a head with the recent fee increases that left students “even more financially strapped,” she said.

While the publishers say they’re just providing what teachers want, the CalPIRG study found that the majority of faculty members believe texts are updated too often and that unnecessary, expensive “add-ons” are included with the books.

A huge beef in recent years comes with the trend of “bundling” CD-ROMs and other materials with textbooks that the students must buy as a package even if their professor plans to use only the book.

Publishers also churn out new editions an average of every three years, adding few substantive changes but charging 58 percent more than used copies of the same text, CalPIRG said. The average cost of a new book is $102.44, compared to $64.80 for a used copy of the same title, the survey found.

“Changing a couple of sentences in a book and then republishing it—I want to get away from that,” A.S. President Michael Dailey said.

The student lobbyists will push for unbundling textbooks, having more texts available online and encouraging a market for used texts as long as the information in them is still relevant.

Fairchild said students and faculty are poised to lobby legislators on bills currently under consideration. Also, they’re in talks with one publisher, Thomson Learning, urging the company to adopt its recommendations and become an industry model.

“I’m optimistic that students and faculty working together really can put some pressure on the publishers to address these concerns,” she said.

Since the A.S. Bookstore benefits from the sales of textbooks, A.S. Director of Legislative Affairs Julie Lewis said her hope is “to address the issue without really hurting bookstores.”

Dailey and A.S. Bookstore chief Steve Dubey planned to talk this week to the author of a troubling bill that would require college bookstores to move to a borrowing-only system, charging students $7 a unit to “rent” texts. Dailey said that system has caused one bookstore to plunge half a million dollars into debt. “In my mind it’s kind of socialistic,” he said. “It would hurt the A.S. Bookstore dramatically.”

The A.S. Bookstore reports that, of every dollar spent on texts, 11.4 percent goes to the author. The publisher gets as much as 64 percent of the take, and the bookstore, after labor and operations costs, makes 1.8 cents, which it puts back into A.S. programs.