Jack's Book Blog: The Textbook Scam

The Object of My Spite

Even though the semester is about to end, I’m still annoyed by the outragous prices of the textbooks and the practices of the companies that release them.  Everyone that has gone to college knows that books cost a lot. But really, why should they?

I bought an art history book for a course I am taking this semester. It’s a book that came out almost ten years ago, and yet the price of one copy used was $90, with the new copies costing upwards of $120. The book is soft-cover and has more than half of the pictures in black-and-white; there is no reason the cost of the book should be this high.

Another blatant exploitation of students’ needs for textbooks is the practice by any type of mathematics textbook of putting out new editions of their book every few years or sometimes every year. Most of the content of these courses hasn’t changed in the past hundred years, so why do they keep releasing new editions? The reason is that in each new edition, the exercises are slightly changed or moved around, which forces the students to purchase the new edition to be able to do homework that is assigned in math courses. Math books are also some of the most expensive, and can be up to $200.

However, some professors realize that this is done by the textbook companies and allow their poor students to use older editions. I had one such professor this semester. The new edition of the textbook used for my Spanish class went for about $180, and you had to buy a workbook for $30-50 as well. The professor recognized that this was a bit much for his students and permitted them to use older editions of the textbook. I bought the previous edition online for less than $10. That discrepancy in price is jaw-dropping.

I believe that more professors should sympathize with their students’ frail state of finance and allow them to use older editions as my Spanish professor did. I do recognize that this is the only way that textbook companies can make money, but that makes it no less of a scam that preys on the needs of students who are dependent on their books.

You can sometimes find the books online. More often than not the way you find them is through illegal scans of the book, and when it is legal it still costs you a pretty penny. I’m finishing my third year of college right now and still have two more to go.  I may need to start using my now old and worthless editions of these books to heat my home. If only I could eat them …

—Jack Betterly Kohn