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New Report Details Latest Examples of Textbook Ripoffs

Study Shows Publishers Using Old and New Tactics to Drive up Textbook Costs
For Immediate Release

PORTLAND, Ore. (October 31, 2006) - A new report, released today by The Make Textbooks Affordable Campaign, presents new case studies of how the college textbook publishing industry deliberately undermines the used book market and inflates prices. Based upon surveys and interviews of bookstore managers and university faculty across the country, the report – “Required Reading: A Look at the Worst Publishing Tactics at Work” – identifies specific textbooks that employ types of publishing tactics, and illustrates how they inflate the cost of textbooks for students.

“This report shows that the publishers are still at it – working to undermine the used book market and inflating prices with bells and whistles,” said Sabrina Case, coordinator of the Make Textbooks Affordable Campaign.

The report details eleven examples of six different kinds of tactics that all serve to inflate textbook costs for students, including:

  • Increased Prices, Same Product.  The report found a textbook in which the price of the textbook increased within the same edition at twice the rate of inflation, though the product had not been changed. 
  • Costly Bundles.  Bundled books can cost considerably more than “ala carte” editions. The report found two textbook bundles that cost 46 to 48 percent more than their unbundled versions.
  • New Covers, Old Content, Zero Used Books.  Publishers frequently issue new editions of textbooks, often with few substantive changes and even in subject areas that have not changed significantly in years.  The report found two examples of new editions with no significant changes.
  • Modern Bundles: Resell Sabotage.  The report found textbooks bundled with one-time use components – such as passwords – that will prevent the entire book package from being resold at semester’s end.  
  • “Low Cost” Options that are Anything But Low Cost.  Publishers often claim that they offer lower cost options that are cheaper than the standard hardcover text. The report found examples of allegedly low cost textbooks that actually have a higher net cost than their standard editions.
  • Customized to Limit the Used Book Market.  Publishers are increasingly promoting “customized books” for particular faculty members’ classes.  The report found an example of a custom textbook so specialized for one particular faculty member’s class that students will not be able to sell the book back to their bookstore or the wider used book market.  

“Publishers are coming up with more and more ways to engineer textbooks to undermine the used book market,” said Case. “The people that suffer here are students.”  

One of the most well-known publishing tactics is the creation of unnecessary editions. For example, Thomson’s Western Civilization 6th edition was found to be essentially the same as its previous edition – though it costs significantly more. “I would say that meaningful updating represents less than 5 percent, perhaps 2 percent, of the book,” wrote Dr. Padraic Kenney, a professor of History at University of Colorado Boulder. “While some updating seems to me to represent a serious attempt to rethink how certain moments in history are presented or interpreted, too much else is window dressing.”

“These editions are the exact same book,” said Ryan Dixon, a Freshman at the University of Washington. “The only differences are the cover and the price.”

The report advises that publishers have the greatest responsibility for making textbooks more affordable. By stopping the practices of bundling and releasing new editions without significant new content, publishers can contribute to a thriving used book market. 

Universities and faculty can help also; research suggests that by becoming more aware of prices, low cost alternatives, and their book adoptions’ impact on the textbook market, faculty can play a significant role in making education more accessible for their students.

“The rising cost of textbooks is a serious problem that everyone involved in higher education should be deeply concerned about,” said Case. “Because of its place in education, the textbook publishing industry must be held to a higher standard.”  

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The Make Textbooks Affordable Campaign is a joint project of the Arizona Students Association, California State Student Association, CALPIRG, CONNPIRG, CoPIRG Student Chapters, INPIRG, Maryland PIRG, MASSPIRG, MoPIRG, NJPIRG Student Chapters, OhioPIRG, OSPIRG, WashPIRG, and WISPIRG. (www.MakeTextbooksAffordable.com)