Students Break Bank to Buy Textbooks

Susan Aksu

Representatives from California Public Interest Group (CALPIRG) gave Glendale students a presentation on April 6, about the high costs of college textbooks and suggested how to bring the costs down.

CALPIRG is an organization that focuses on issues dealing with higher education, the environment and other social issues. In California there are eight UC chapters and a USC chapter as well as chapters at in the community college level.

The representatives, Campus Organization Director Ben Smith and Pierce College student Abraham White, presented CALPIRG’s research on why textbook prices are so high. According to the studies, book costs are high due to the publishing company releasing new editions of the books to prevent a large market in used book sales, which are more economical for college students.

“I’ve never heard a student say ‘oh, that was a cheap book,'” said Hoover Zariani, Director of the Service Learning Center. Zariani said that if GCC becomes involved with CALPIRG, it will help with the cost of books.

According to Smith, publishing companies say that CALPIRGS’s studies are biased and college faculty are really at fault. However, the Government Accountability Office conducted its own research and found that the publishers were setting textbook costs unreasonably high.

Publishers have the ability to release new editions of textbooks as often as they want on a subject that may have not made a significant change in a hundred years such as calculus. However for classes such as computer diagnostics and science, which are constantly changing, CALPIRG suggests manuals to be published instead of textbooks.

“Shakespeare hasn’t changed,” said White in regards to the publishers and the release of new editions.

Professors from various colleges have reported to CALPIRG that mistakes found in older editions, which were pointed out to publishers, were never corrected in the new editions. New editions also lack noticeable changes. In many new editions the only change made is an added sentence or chapter.

“They come out with new editions to destroy the used book market,” said Mike Allen, President of the Faculty Guild. “The bookstore is run by the student government; they should find ways to save money for the students.”

Publishers are charging more than the cost of the finished book and are also increasing the edition-to-edition price by two times the rate of inflation, according to the studies by CALPIRG presented by Smith.
Publishers often practice book-bundling, which also inflates prices. Publishers wrap the textbook, workbook and CD-ROM’s together, causing students to pay at least $100 for extra items they may never need in class.

In a recent survey conducted by CALPIRG, 76 percent of faculty said new editions are justified only half the time or less even though publishers say faculty ask for the editions. About 65 percent of faculty said they rarely or never use the bundled items that come with textbooks.

A disadvantage in buying bundled textbooks is that if it comes with a workbook, students are unable to sell back any of the bundled items to the bookstore if it has been written in, even though the workbook is meant to be written in.

The bookstore is not responsible for the prices of the textbooks; the publishing company sets the prices. However, the faculty and student government have the option to refuse ordering textbooks from publishers that do not meet students’ needs.

“Many instructors are mindful of the publishers,” said Tammy Hall, assistant bookbuyer for the bookstore. “Oftentimes teachers that are concerned about the price research the prices themselves.”

Students are under the impression that their professors are the ones responsible for choosing costly books to be the required reading material, but often professors place orders for books in advance, which can be beneficial for students who want to shop for the cheapest used book.

“Teachers order books six months before the semester begins. The bookstore knows way in advance what books are going to be used,” said Professor Mona Field of the political science department.

However, within that six-month time frame, publishers some choose to limit the amount of the ordered edition to be released and then release a brand new edition, forcing students to purchase the brand new and expensive book instead of giving students the chance to buy used books.
“That money is not going into the state budget and it’s not going to lower fees or go into financial aid,” said Smith. “It’s going right into the publisher’s [profits].”

Three of the four mentioned classes require textbooks which are bundled, increasing the cost of a single textbook which could be found used for a cheaper price on Web sites such as or from other students who sell their books.

Student Alejandra Morataya, 22, said she had purchased a few of her textbooks online from and was surprised at how much cheaper they were selling than the current editions offered by the college bookstore.

The bookstore sets a margin over the cost the publisher sells the books for in order to make a profit. “Our prices have been compared to several colleges and universities and were the lowest in terms of margin,” said Hall.

CALPIRG members from Pierce College interviewed students about where they stand financially with school expenses and put together a “Debt Yearbook,” which included their pictures. They presented the yearbook to members of Congress in Washington D.C.

“Financial aid only covers so much,” said White. “Students are faced with taking out loans just to pay for [community colleges].”
Margaret Nadir, a concerned parent and faculty member, suggested that publishers should stop printing hardbound books because hardbound books tend to be more expensive than paperback books. She was also concerned with the weight of the books being damaging for students’ backs.

“What are they trying to do, break their backs and then their pockets?” said Nadir.