Governor Approves One Textbook Bill, Vetoes Another

Garineh Demirjian

For most students, the beginning of a new semester means taking on new classes, and facing new professors and peers. Not to mention the dread of having to pay hundreds of dollars for textbooks.

To lessen the burden, efforts have been made by California state legislators to lower textbook costs that have produced two pieces of state legislation, one with a grim outlook.

The legislators pushing for the bills are trying to get more advance information to college professors about the pricing of books and whether additional material in new editions is significant enough to order them. Requiring new editions makes it harder for students to buy or trade used copies.

Patricia Bradley, GCC textbook buyer, feels students’ pain when it comes to textbook costs. “I can understand why students look for cheaper ways to pay for textbooks, if you look around you can see the shelves full of books,” said Bradley, referring to many books that have not been sold because students purchase books from other sources, such as the internet and their peers.

The main authors of the bills are both Democrats. Sen. Ellen Corbett of San Leandro wrote The College Textbook Affordability Act, SB 832, and Assemblyman Jose Solorio of Santa Ana is responsible for the Textbook Transparency Act, AB 1548.

The bills require publishers to provide faculty a price list of all books in a subject area, an estimate of how long the publisher intends to keep the texts on the market and a list of considerable changes the newest editions contain. Those lists would also be posted online.

On Friday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed SB 832 and signed AB 1548.

In a message to the senate, Gov. Schwarzenegger wrote, “I am supportive of efforts to address the cost of college textbooks and share the concern that these education costs have an impact on the affordability of college for many students. However, this bill [SB 832] focuses strictly on textbook publisher policies so therefore, instead of this bill, I am signing AB 1548 because it recognizes the shared responsibility and attempts to address the issue in a more comprehensive manner.”

According to Bradley, a full- time student may spend $250 to $300 per semester on books.

Bradley, who has worked in the bookstore for 20 years, has seen the changes in the number of books students purchase from the bookstore. “In the last 10 years, as technology advances, you can see a difference in the number of books being purchased from the bookstore,” said Bradley.

When asked if the bookstore makes any profit from textbooks Bradley responded by saying that they “add on a 26 percent margin,” meaning if a book costs $100 the bookstore price would be $126. That’s not to say they make a large profit because the bookstore pays overhead, including salaries and shipping, from the margin.

Steve Bie, a professor of philosophy, does not assign a textbook for all but one of his philosophy courses; rather he has all his readings and handouts on WebCT. When asked why he does this, he said “I post readings on WebCT rather than assigning a textbook to allow my students to save money. I believe that many of the students who take my classes do not have a lot of money, so I should only require them to spend money on a text if there is no more economically efficient way to accomplish the same goal.”

Bie also said that he used to assign books to his students but realized that they cost about $100 each and each year insignificant changes were made in order to force students to purchase new editions rather than used editions.

“This serves the economic interests of the book companies at the expense of struggling students, but it does not serve any legitimate educational goal,” said Bie.

When Richard Kamei, a sociology instructor, was asked if he thought the new bills would affect him as an instructor he said an important reason why he teaches at a community college is because he want to “empower populations” that have been historically marginalized.

“To accomplish this goal, community colleges must be affordable to working class students. A partial solution to this problem is to manage textbook costs. In this respect, the bills provide a means to help reduce book costs, which I am all for,” said Kamei.

Some professors, such as Mark Maier, an economics instructor, have a different take when it comes to purchasing new editions of textbooks.

“In economics, with constantly changing data and policies, every-three-year updates are quite reasonable. However, the increase in textbook prices is a function of the reduced number of textbook publishers, an issue that needs to be addressed nationally, not in state legislation,” said Maier.

The GCC bookstore does have a resale policy called “0-50” meaning the most you can get for an undamaged book is 50 percent of the original cost. If the publishers are not going to reuse the same edition the following semester the bookstore will not buy it back.

The bookstore hours are Monday through Thursday 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and Friday 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information regarding the bookstore call (818) 242-1561.