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Congress Moves to Cut Textbook Costs in Landmark Bill

Textbook price disclosure mandate within the Higher Education Opportunity Act
For Immediate Release

WASHINGTON (July 31, 2008) - Marking the first major federal action to curb the skyrocketing cost of college textbooks, Congress approved legislation today that will bring down prices for millions of students.  Textbook costs amount to a $700-$1000 yearly expense, and prices have been climbing faster than inflation for decades.  The bill answers a call to action from students and faculty across the country. 

“Textbooks can be the difference between going to college and dropping out because of cost,” said Nicole Allen, Textbooks Advocate for the Student PIRGs. “The bill directly addresses the publishing industry practices that our research identifies as the heart of the problem. The new law is a critical step towards a textbooks market that is more fair to students.” 

The key provision requires publishers to include price and revision information when marketing textbooks to professors. This takes steps to counteract the fundamental economic flaw in the textbook market that allows prices to rise unchecked.  Unlike other products, a third party (professors) decides which textbook the consumer (students) must buy.  Since professors assign the textbooks best for their courses, students must purchase their books regardless of cost. Student PIRG research found that publishers further exacerbate this problem by withholding price information from professors. The bill reverses this problem by requiring publishers to put price information on the table so professors can consider costs on behalf of students.

The bill contains two additional provisions that give students more options as consumers.  First, it requires publishers to sell all textbook “bundles” as individual books and supplemental materials.  PIRG research identified bundling as one of the main practices publishers use to drive up costs.  Second, the bill asks colleges to inform students which textbooks they need a full semester early.  That way, students will have time to shop around for the best deals.

The textbooks legislation was contained in the larger Higher Education Opportunity Act (H.R. 4137), which passed today 380-49 in the House and 83-8 in the Senate. The bill will now proceed to the President to be signed into law. The textbooks provisions go into effect July 1, 2010.

To download a full analysis of the provision, visit http://www.studentpirgs.org/resources/textbook-price-disclosure-law.

About the Student PIRGs

The Student Public Interest Research Groups is a national network of non-profit, non-partisan student advocacy groups that work on public interest issues pertaining to the environment, consumer protection and government reform.