College and university students have a love-hate relationship with textbooks. On the one hand, students may earn high grades for mastering the material presented in these books. On the other hand, textbooks are notoriously expensive, costing as much as $200 for a single book. Yet, the fact of the matter is that students need to buy the books in order to score the high marks. This is a fact the multi-billion dollar textbook industry uses to take advantage of students’ reliance on textbooks.
Many people suspect that textbooks are overpriced -that is the retail cost far exceeds the cost of production and distribution of the books. Many feel that the publishers pocket the vast majority of the profits themselves. The intuition of these individuals may be plausible for the following reasons.
First, new editions of books consisting of topics centuries old are released at least every two years. For example, the origin of calculus can be traced back to 1800 BC. And while the discipline has developed from that time through the 19th century AD, there has been no revolutionary development in this discipline of mathematics since the beginning of the 20th century. The same is often true of several math subjects including statistics and basic college level math.
Therefore, by releasing new editions of textbooks almost annually, publishers attempt to disrupt the used textbook market. However, the publishers would not be able to force these new editions of textbooks upon students if it were not for college and university professors who usually require students to purchase the latest edition of textbooks, even if the difference between the current and previous editions is the rearrangement of a chapter in the book.
The interests of textbook publishers and professors with respect to new editions of textbooks are therefore adverse to the interests of college and university students. Yet this is the reality that students face today in the midst of the immensely rising costs of higher level education.
What can students and professors do to curtail blatant resale of books that are presented as new editions? Professors should ask the publishers about the pricing information between the new and previous editions to determine if the additional cost is justifiable for students. Professors should also ask the publisher what the material changes are between editions and should verify the response for his or herself. Students should notify professors when they see minute changes between current and previous versions of textbooks.