I was puzzled by The Hatchet’s recent editorial on textbook pricing (“Make textbooks affordable, Jan. 19, p. 4), which neglects to explain several important facts about the higher education textbook market. I want to emphasize that publishers are extremely sensitive to the financial pressure that rapid increases in tuition, student fees, room and board, and textbook costs are placing on students and parents.
But let’s be clear: publishers offer a broad range of textbooks and educational materials at different price points, ranging from one – or two-color editions, loose-leaf editions, digital textbooks, custom books and complete learning packages. From these options, professors, among the best-informed and most sophisticated consumers in America, then adopt course materials that they believe will help students succeed and provide them with the education they are paying for.
Professors see value in supplemental educational tools, with 75 percent of faculty requiring or recommending their students use supplementary books or digital materials, according to a nationwide survey of faculty conducted by Zogby International.
In regard to new editions, the market itself determines whether a revision is necessary. If a new edition were not necessary, professors wouldn’t adopt the new book, forcing it off the market. On average, new editions are created every four years to reflect substantial changes in subject material. The Zogby survey found that 80 percent of college professors say it is important that the material in texts used for their courses be as current as possible, and 62 percent say they prefer to order texts with the most recent copyright date.
Your editorial also challenges the practice of selling international texts at lower prices than those in the United States without understanding, or making it clear to readers, that overseas sales in poorer countries, while small, help to hold down the price of textbooks in America.
Fifty-four percent of America’s four-year college students are not graduating in six years, dropping out and incurring increased debt. That is why a critical focus of faculty and publishers is on developing the best tools to improve student success.
-Stacy M. Scarazzo, Assistant Director for Higher Education, Association of American Publishers
Right on the money
Your editorial on textbook prices (“Make textbooks affordable, Jan. 19, p. 4) was right on the money. Students do indeed have the power to break away from overpriced textbooks. It’s important to keep the pressure on professors and to be alert for ways to save money.
One way to help is to suggest free alternatives to high-priced books. Very few students and professors know about the availability of top-quality free textbooks for many subjects. Many professors have taken it upon themselves to write a book and offer it online, either as a reaction to high prices, because they are unsatisfied with the available books, or both.
As a public service to my fellow students (I study geology at Northeastern University in Boston), I’ve combed the Web to find every free textbook I could, and collected links and overviews to all of them in one easy-to-use Web site, www.textbookrevolution.org.
I’d like to thank you for addressing the issue. As long as we remain complacent about the high cost of books, the textbook industry will continue to gouge us. Publicity like yours will help us turn this around.
-Jason Turgeon, Northeastern University, textbookrevolution.org
This article appeared in the January 26, 2006 issue of the Hatchet.