While soaring textbook prices have sent some students to discount online retailers, other students across the country are opting out of paying for textbooks altogether.
Textbook Torrents, a Web site that allows users to illegally swap digital copies of textbooks with one another, has about 95,000 members and is growing by close to 1,000 members every day, said the site’s administrator, who identifies himself only as “Geekman.”
“Students are sick and tired of paying artificially inflated prices from publishers living large off their miniature classroom-sized monopolies,” Geekman wrote in an email.
The site allows students to download free textbooks and also serves as a forum for students to voice their concerns about book prices.
Geekman said that the sale of digital textbooks for a reduced price, an alternative offered by some publishers, is misleading because the files expire after one semester and cannot be resold to help students recover some of the initial cost.
“Downloading textbooks for free is no solution, but neither is the publisher’s exploitive behavior,” Geekman said, insisting that there must be some middle ground between publishers, booksellers and students.
Copyright organizations like the Association of American Publishers have been trying to shut down Textbook Torrents, Geekman said, adding that he is confident the site will remain open.
“If the site goes offline, it will be my decision on my terms,” he said.
Cliff Ewert, vice president of public and campus relations at Follett, which manages the GW Bookstore, said he is not aware of Textbook Torrents or any other illegal Web site offering free books.
“If they existed, they would be subject to legal action by the publishers,” Ewert said.
Follett currently offers 1,000 textbooks for sale in digital form, Ewert said. The company has also acquired a social networking site called CafeScribe, which allows students to download less expensive books as well as join virtual study groups with students anywhere in the world.
Donald Lehman, executive vice president for academic affairs at GW, said he has been following recent developments in book piracy online and is “absolutely against it.”
Lehman acknowledged that while authors expect to be compensated for their work, high textbook prices have reached a tipping point.
“The cost of textbooks is basically out of control,” Lehman said. “There’s going to have to be some meeting of the minds.”