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Textbook Companies seeking to pick even more pockets March 9, 2007

Posted by Administrator in Education.

Textbook companies are the great cash cow of the publishing industry. There is nothing better than having a captive audience. And in students, particularly college students, the publishing companies have them by the short hairs, and they intend to squeeze this particular captive audience for all its worth.

States recently are claiming that they need to step in and “rescue” students from the marauding textbook companies. And though I am not a fan of state interference, there is little question that I would shimmer with satisfaction at seeing the text companies take it in their shorts for once.

Let’s look at how textbook companies respond to the idea that they need to be somewhat regulated:

Publishers have argued that such proposals interfere with their constitutional rights,

As in, the right to hose students for all they are worth. Hmmm. I missed that amendment in civics class.

They go on to whine:

(this legislation will) threaten the academic freedom of faculty members, and ignore the economics of textbook publishing. Textbooks are costly, in part, because relatively few copies are sold, they say.

OK. There is no question that many textbook runs are limited, and therefore the printing runs require greater sticker prices to offset the limited profit that can be made on a limited press run.


The textbook industry pulls in more than $6.5 billion a year at college bookstores, and college books have tripled in price since 1986.

Tell me again, about how hard it is to make money off those limited press runs?

Then there’s this:

The industry estimates four-year college students spend $644 annually on books; a 2005 government report put the figure at about $900 per year, but that figure includes supplies, too.

Funny how the presses say it’s almost 50% cheaper to buy books than the government reports. Which says something about government cost overruns at the same time it might be saying something about the publisher’s desire to downplay the fact that they are soaking the student for what little worth they have left.

Bruce Hildebrand, an official with the Association of American Publishers, said the most successful textbooks are lucky to reach 40,000 copies in sales, while mass-market best-sellers can sell millions of copies before they even hit paperback.

This is certainly true. Yet they also make any number of fiction runs of 50,000 or less, and charge far less than they do for textbooks. And many of these fiction dogs are not sold, resulting in a loss for the publishers. Yet they charge top dollar for texts. Again, why? Captive audience. The free market is in not as in play here, as there is a very limited -yet very absolute- buying market that has to have these books. No one has to buy those fiction losers. . .so their prices are much lower.

And NONE of this even begins to address the absolute killing publishers make in the K-12 market, particularly in the Texas and California markets. Publishers all have full-time lobbyists in Austin and Sacramento, and you had better believe they get their money’s worth when they lobby clueless state legislators about “what’s best for schools.”

But here is my favorite piece of mendacity:

The publishing industry estimates that the average textbook edition has a four-year lifespan and a price tag of $52.



They are lumping all books sold in bookstores into that figure. And there are basically two types of books:

  1. Hardbound texts, that ought to last ten years with decent care. These babies cost at a minimum $60 per, on upward to $400 for specialty titles.
  2. Softbound “consumables”, that are generally much cheaper, but also are good for only one term of use, less than 6 months. but even then, these books that are even less expensive to manufacture are sold at far beyond cost to shelve.

What the legislators are rightfully pissed about is the cost of the large books. . .and the publishers are being disingenuous when they say that the average text costs $52.

Try $100.


Do I have an answer for this definite dilemma for the college student? Nope. But I would like to see the publishers penalized, somehow. They are the modern Corsairs of literature, and this situation has been crying for a modern John Paul Jones for at least 20 years.



1. alyoshka - March 10, 2007

I paid 60 bucks for a soft cover workbook last semester. Its a joke! You can’t re-sell a workbook at the end of the semester, and no way should a softcover book cost that much! I agree with you, being a poor broke college student myself.

However, I have two points to add. One is the college bookstore themself. Our bookstore marks things up 17% no matter what it cost in order for them to make a profit (as one teacher who designed her own text and then sold it in the bookstore found out. They didn’t even tell her that the price would go up!)-nevermind that the school contracts to eFollet to run our bookstore. These people are also the ones who tell teachers that they cannot locate enough copies of a book to sell and that the teacher therefor ought not to teach that specific book.

The second is that books are constantly being updated in edition. The new edition costs more and has different page numbers. Despite the fact that publishers claim not to print a new edition unless it has 30 percent new matieral, new editions come out every year or two years. Calculus is not advancing that fast!

Thanks for your rant!

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