Textbook law protects students’ wallets

Students should expect to see more editions and cheaper used textbooks filling these shelves as a new textbook law takes effect.

Students should expect to see more editions and cheaper used textbooks filling these shelves as a new textbook law takes effect.

In response to growing concerns about high textbook prices, Missouri Governor Matt Blunt passed a bill that will require textbook manufacturers to be more transparent in their pricing.

The bill, passed on Jun. 25, goes into effect on Aug. 28 and will force textbook manufacturers to publish precisely what information has been changed between revisions of textbooks. This information will allow professors to request students to buy the newest editions only when necessary, increasing students’ options for used books.

The Associated Students of the University of Missouri (ASUM) helped to pass the legislation, which was sponsored by State Rep. Jake Zimmerman (D-Olivette).

“Textbook costs can be outrageous. Professors will now hopefully be able to choose the older or less expensive editions if content is similar,” Craig Stevenson, the former legislative director of ASUM, said.

The bill also allows students to direct financial aid toward buying books.

In 2004, professors and students signed a nationwide petition in an attempt to lower the prices of Thomson Learning’s textbooks.

Washington University students often feel the sting of these high prices. One microeconomics textbook costs $200, and for organic chemistry students, a new textbook can set them back $228.

Many students feel frustrated by the costs.

“I paid [a lot] for my textbooks this semester,” sophomore Jovana Husic said. “That’s ridiculous. Also, I have a new edition of a textbook I bought last semester that I couldn’t sell back to the bookstore, because when I went to sell it back to them, they told me that they already had enough used copies of it.”

Junior Mark Dudley had a similar experience with the buy back program, which is intended to help ease textbook costs for students.

“When I tried to sell back my math textbook, the bookstore said they would give me five dollars,” he said. “I waited a semester [and] then was able to sell it for 40. It’s all based on supply and demand.”

The situation of textbook prices has gone on since 2004, when the California Public Interest Group (CALPIRG) published a study called “Ripoff 101: How the Current Practices of the Publishing Industry Drive up the Costs of College Textbooks,” an extensive survey of textbook prices in West Coast schools.

In a study released in 2005 called “Ripoff 101: 2nd Edition,” the Public Interest Group asserts that the study “uncovered more evidence that textbook prices are a significant part of college costs, that textbook prices are rising at a fast pace and that publishers use a variety of tactics to inflate the cost of textbooks.”

“In addition, we found that textbook publishers increase textbook prices faster than the rate of inflation between editions and charge American students more for the same books than students in other countries.”

One of the tactics that CALPIRG referred to is the release of new editions without substantially changing the information. When the new bill takes effect, professors will be able to better decide if students need to buy a new edition, or if the old one is sufficient.

CALPIRG’s study sparked an investigation into textbook manufacturing by the federal Government Accountability Office (GAO). In July 2005, GAO found that textbook prices had tripled from 1986 to 2004, increasing faster than tuition and above the inflation rate.

The GAO found, however, that the rising costs of textbooks were somewhat mitigated by the enhanced offerings of new textbooks, especially regarding new technology that supplemented the textbooks’ content.

An example of these technological applications in University courses is Quia, an online workbook used by French students. Quia allows teachers to assign self-grading assignments, which gives students immediate feedback. The price of a French textbook, which comes bundled with Quia, is $152, and cannot be bought used.

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