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The Value of Your Dollar

Costs related to textbooks rising faster than inflation

by Published: Feb 13, 2013

The battle between textbook publishers and sellers has left students’ pocketbooks black and blue.

“In past semesters I’ve spent as much as $800 on textbooks,” Ferris senior nursing and health care systems administration student Cory Tepatti said.

Tepatti, who once spent $300 on an anatomy and physiology textbook, has transitioned to renting this semester.

Textbook costs are 812 percent higher than they were 30 years ago, according to the American Enterprise Institute. This figure has soared over the rate of inflation, the rise of tuition and even new home prices over the same period.

“The publisher sets the price; we have no say in the price or even the material,” Manager of Great Lakes Book and Supply Lynn Anderson said.

According to the National Association of College Stores (NACS), 77 cents on the dollar goes directly to text book publishers. In comparison, 21 cents on the dollar is deposited to the seller.

Great Lakes Book Supply has a focus on used textbooks in a proactive effort to keep costs manageable for students, with 80 percent of textbooks in its inventory being pre-owned.

Anderson said publisher greed is the primary culprit. She also said publishers come out with new books frequently in order to introduce new revenue streams.

“They have added CDs, then they have added access to websites along with the book, so you have $120 tied into a textbook that’s useless. There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors going on,” Anderson said.

NACS has estimated that the average college student ponies up over $1,100 for required books in a given year. At Ferris, this figure can equate to over 10 percent of a student’s financial liability.

The sale of textbooks is a billion dollar industry. The reliance of college textbooks is a mainstay in many large businesses including Barnes and Noble.

Last year, Barnes and Noble sold over $1.5 billion worth of textbooks, which added a $3.9 million gross profit for the publicly traded giant, according to the company’s 2012 sales report.

Currently, there are 647 Barnes and Noble stores associated with collegiate business across the country, one of which is located in the Rankin Center. This venture of the corporation has continued to be the most profitable sector in capital investments, with the highest percent of operating profit.

The media relations employee for Barnes and Noble did not respond to inquiries.

The company also offers to rent textbooks, which are due back a week before finals week. The buyer will spend less than the cost of buying the textbook but will not get any monetary return.

“I rented textbooks this semester and it’s about $5 to $10 cheaper. I’m not going to keep these textbooks; it’s kind of like renting an apartment,” Tepatti said.

Anderson is weary of this method, as the possibility of losing a book thrusts the full retail price directly on the student.

“What you’re paying is less in the long run if you buy a textbook. If you lose your textbook you’re on the hook for the whole retail price,” Anderson said.

If renting is not your preferred method, students can opt to try their luck online or invest in new technology such as the E-book to keep prices moderate.

In a world where technology is constantly innovating, the role of textbooks in the classroomsmay change. Only time will tell if the electronic version is better than a print edition.