ConnPIRG releases report on ‘the new face of textbook monopoly’

University of Connecticut student advocacy organization, ConnPIRG, released a report on Wednesday, which analyzed the adverse affect that online access codes issued by textbook companies have on the affordability of college.

Online access codes are issued by publishing companies and grant access to various online learning modules and content, often supplemented in tandem by a corresponding textbook. Since courses often issue homework and other such assignments through these means, purchasing an access code is mandatory.

“Online access codes are the new face of the textbook monopoly,” Saman Azimi, seventh semester finance major and ConnPIRG State Board Chair said. “In one swoop, the publishers remove a student’s ability to opt-out of buying their product, eliminate any and all competition in the market, and look good doing it because the codes are cheaper than publisher’s exorbitantly priced textbooks”

The report, titled ‘Access Denied: The New Face of the Textbook Monopoly,’ evaluated data obtained from ten different educational institutions from around the United States. According to the findings of the report, about 32 percent of college courses require the use of an access code, and the average cost was evaluated to be $100.24.

Nonetheless, publishing companies argue that the online suites provided by access codes offer a flexible and individualized learning approach. According to leading textbook company, Pearson, its two main online suites MyLab and Mastering provide an invaluable addition to help facilitate student learning.

In a statement describing its products Pearson states “With input from more than 11 million student users annually, MyLab & Mastering creates learning experiences that are truly personalized and continuously adaptive.”

Despite this, a prominent issue raised by the report highlights how unlike textbooks, an access code can never be reused between students and must always be purchased at full price. It further notes that frequently access codes are only bundled with their corresponding book, making it necessary to purchase both even if a second hand option is available.

Specifically, the report notes that only 28 percent of access codes were offered in unbundled form. Additionally, when codes were directly obtained from the publisher, only 56 percent of all required access codes were offered without additional materials bundled in.

“Publishers are touting access codes as a student-friendly option in the textbook market, but in reality, it’s just another tactic to eliminate competition in the market and keep profits high,” Azimi said. “These codes offer big publishers a host of benefits over the traditional print market,  while throwing students, especially those who are economically disadvantaged, under the bus.”

Both ConnPIRG and the Undergraduate Student Government have been working to promote the use of open source textbooks in various courses. Besides for the immediate reduction in textbook prices, it is hoped that supplementary restrictive access codes will not be as crucial or necessary for use with the open source alternatives.

“I have concerns regarding the prevalent use of bundled course packs that require me to purchase resources that I already own or are readily available through the UConn Library,” business graduate student Khara Leon said. “I applaud the efforts of UConn leadership, faculty, and students that are working to change the publisher-driven culture in order to make critical resources available to all students without incurring unnecessary expenses.”