Many factors influence cost of books
Committee looks to contain, reduce costs
The rising price of textbooks is often a sore subject with students. According to a report on the National Association of College Stores (NACS) Web site, The College Board estimates that the cost of books and supplies for students in the 2005-2006 academic year ranged from $801 to $904.
A United States Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) report shows that these prices have increased at twice the rate of inflation over the last two decades.
Dr. Mark Johnson, NIACC vice president of Academic Affairs, said that he feels the textbook price increases deserves some attention.
“The rise in textbook prices is a concern to the college and the faculty, because it is a concern for students,” Johnson said.
In the spring of 2007 a special faculty committee was developed to discuss the issue.
“The task of the committee is to understand the problem by reviewing the current information available and examining strategies for containing or reducing textbook costs,” Johnson said.
College Book Store manager Peggy Pitzenburger said she thinks many factors are contributing to the rising costs, including shipping, frequent revisions and even the issue of getting faculty to place their orders for texts in a timely manner.
According to Pitzenburger, all books ordered must be shipped to the bookstore, and the higher price of gasoline contributes to rising prices.
“Fed Ex and UPS have increased their shipping prices annually by 3.9% over the past few years,” Pitzenburger said.
According to the GAO report and the College Book Store, textbook publishers frequently- and sometimes unnecessarily- revise textbooks to generate new sales, often to recover their losses from the circulation of used books.
“I hear from faculty all the time that some revisions are too minimal to warrant a new book,” Pitzenburger said. Yet publishing representatives visit instructors, encouraging the adoption of the new text, or informing them that the old texts are not available anymore.
These frequent revisions require students to buy new books and render some used books obsolete.
To keep prices down, Pitzenburger said she encourages faculty to stick with the same editions of a book for at least two to three years if possible.
At the end of each semester, the College Book Store buys textbooks back from students in hopes of matching demand in upcoming semesters.
The College Book Store’s prices for buying used books are determined in line with national guidelines, based on a book’s value and demand.
According to NACS, a used book will always be 25% less than the publisher’s original price. This remains the case even the second or third time the book is sold.
However, the College Book Store staff said they never buy back books that have water damage or torn or missing pages.
According to Pitzenburger, the number of books students have to sell sometimes exceeds demand.
At this point, a used book company steps in and offers students a price that is often lower than the College Book Store.
These large used book companies then turn around and sell the books to other institutions in need of the text.
According to Pitzenburger, one thing that can help a bookstore offer lower priced used books to students is if instructors make their textbook requests to the bookstore on time.
“A lot of times faculty don’t realize what an impact their making timely orders has,” Pitzenburger said. She also said that if she knows what books will be required for a course, she can estimate how many of the texts she will be able to buy back.
“Buying books from NIACC students is my first choice for acquiring the books needed for future students,” Pitzenburger said.
Although it shares some of its profits with NIACC, the College Book Store is a private business separate from the college and takes a considerable risk when calculating how many unreturnable used books to buy.
On the other hand, if the bookstore cannot secure a sufficient number of a certain textbook that is in demand, it may have to pay full price on the open market.
“Every college bookstore across the country is fighting for the same used books,” Pitzenburger said.
Even if instructors have submitted their orders on time, and the texts are purchased to meet expected needs, students sometimes purchase books online. This can leave the bookstore with excess, unprofitable inventory, Pitzenburger said.
The NIACC Textbook Costs Committee and the College Book Store are reviewing other options, including book rentals or the sale of electronic books.
According to an article in The Community College Times, some Northern California community colleges are working on fund raising and writing grants in order to create large rental libraries.
Pitzenburger said that a rental library is a topic being discussed, but she said she feels that this option could require a lot of maintenance as well as the risk of students not returning books. Another new topic is that of electronic books. Johnson said he wonders if students will want to read a book on a computer, while Pitzenburger said that the current discounts for e-books are often 30% and there is no buyback option.
“I think students like the fact that after the semester is over, they can get some cash for their books,” Pitzenburger said.
Regardless of how a book is acquired, Johnson said he feels that access is the key.
“From an academic standpoint, whatever will make it possible for a student to have access to and read a book is high priority for us,” Johnson said.
For students who want to get involved in the discussion of rising textbook costs, a campaign Web site, www.maketextbooksaffordable.com, is dedicated to providing information, making voices heard and looking for solutions to an issue that is affecting students nationwide.