Updated textbooks raise prices, students suffer

By Jillian Milam
March 31, 2005

Shawn Rice

It’s the dreaded moment that every student, or parent for that matter, awaits semester after semester. The jaw-dropping, eye-popping, mind-boggling price of textbooks. Why are the prices so extreme and where does all of the money go?

“The used book market,” Ray Mesing, salesman and field editor for a publishing company called Prentice Hall , said. “For me, this is the main reason as to why the prices of textbooks have increased.”

About 10 to 15 years ago, there were no such things as companion web sites or power point slides. Once a companion web site was created, other businesses had to raise the bar as well, eventually shutting other companies down.

“The cost of extraneous things adds to it. Web sites are free, power points are free. You know, we’re not good-natured people and we don’t just give things away,” Mesing said. “All of it costs money and somebody has to pay for it.”

Therefore, paper itself became more expensive. Then the used book market phenomenon took over and has affected publishing companies immensely.

“We used to do revisions of books every five or six years. Now, we do it every two or three years. Before used books came about, we would lose money for the first two years of the new book cycle, break even on the third year and then make money the last three years,” Mesing said.

This cycle was efficient and kept everybody content since publishers could keep the prices down. However, used books altered this five or six year cycle and forced publishers to make their profit during the book’s first year.

“It’s like a car dealership. The salesman sells a car for the first time, brand new. They make money when the car is first off the lot, not on used cars,” Mesing said. “I still have to support it with supplements, like raising the price to offset the different year cycle.”

Other supplements might include the infamous CDs that are attached to books, which at times seem to serve merely as worthless price-boosters as opposed to educational tools.

“I bought my history textbook and thought that I would need it for class,” Jess Bailey, sophomore education major, said. “But it turned out I didn’t…plus it came with some CD which was just a waste of money because we never had to use it!”

Follett Higher Education Group, the country’s largest bookstore retailer that serves as Cabrini’s bookstore distributor, recognizes the fact that the concept of adding packages such as CDs is aiding to the problem of expensive textbooks. Michele Kennedy, Cabrini’s bookstore manager, explained that if a professor requests a shipment of textbooks that contain any type of package, employees of the bookstore will pick up the phone to call that professor and make sure he or she definitely wants that certain book and if they truly need the CD.

“Sometimes the teachers will say ‘no, we don’t need the CD that comes with it,'” Kennedy said. “So we send out a search to our 3 main used book sources to find the books without the CDs.”

According to Acumen, a Follett Newsletter For Faculty, a recent study proved that one of the main reasons students refuse to buy textbooks is the fact that their teachers “suggested it was not necessary.” Twenty percent of four-year college students have this same claim.

However, for the students who do purchase textbooks, the high prices are a familiar fear.

A significant issue that has made waves in the publishing industry involves its overseas distribution strategies. With objectives of helping needy countries such as India, Pakistan and China, companies shipped out older editions of textbooks to these locations in order to provide lower rates.

“Although they wouldn’t be getting the most current information in the textbooks, they can get, for example, an engineering book for $75 in India when it sells for $150 in the United States,” Mesing said.

However, students looking to save some money have figured out ways of getting these books shipped back into the United States for the cheaper prices.

“We had the best of intentions of trying to sell books cheaper to other countries…but American students are out looking to cut corners and its hurting the publishing industry,” Mesing said. “We’re trying to close that loophole…we have a hole division on that because it is such a big problem.”

Fall semester is right around the corner. If a student goes to the bookstore and coughs up $70 for a psychology book, where does each cent of each dollar they spend go and why?

“Generally the margin on a textbook is 20 to 25 percent,” Kennedy said. “On our part, it’s operation costs, salaries, benefits…you know, the daily work of the store like shipping books out, getting books in.”

According to the National Association of College Stores (NACS), about 22.4 cents of every dollar goes toward bookstores in general. Within this percentage, 11.3 cents go to store personnel, 6.6 cents to store operations and 4.5 cents for store income.

“The mark-up from the bookstore is huge!” Mesing said. “They’re the enemy…they put their mark-up on it and put it on the shelf. No research, no development. They touch it once and get as much as we do.”

According to NACS, 32.3 cents go to the publisher’s expense such as printing and paper, 15.4 cents go toward publisher’s marketing expenses, 10 cents go to publishing operations and 7.1 cents go towards the publisher’s income. While 1.2 cents go towards payment for the freight company, 11.6 cents are for the author’s income, which is paid by the publisher. This comes to a total of 77.6 percent of every dollar for the publishers, after performing developmental research, binding, covering and things alike.

Regardless of who’s making the big bucks here, when fall semester rolls around students may be happy they kept their summer job because of the cash they have to fork out on books.

Posted to the web by Shawn Rice

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Jillian Milam

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