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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Why are textbooks so expensive?



For college students, like myself, saving money is always high on the agenda. College apartments are stocked with utensils ‘borrowed’ from the dining hall, and it isn’t uncommon to eat Ramen three nights a week. While paying an exorbitant amount of money for tuition, students make sacrifices to save a few dollars here and there. These money-saving techniques can be as small as skipping on guacamole at Chipotle or as large as deciding not to purchase a text book for a class. Although it may be hard news to take, guac is probably a luxury we can forgo. But a textbook? That seems like a pretty significant part of college. We are here to get an education, right? To put it gently, the price of textbooks is not conducive with the life of a college student. The average price of tuition at a private institution is $32,405 per year. Multiply this number by 4 and you’re paying over $129,620 for 4 years. With this burden already associated with higher education, it would make sense for textbooks to be somewhat reasonable in price. Here at Worldwide Center of Math, the affordability and accessibility of textbooks is something we strive for. However, the majority of textbook publishers do not share the same idea.

According to students themselves, typically math and science books are the most detrimental to their bank account. Below is a chart that shows the price for a print and digital copy of one of the most expensive types of text books—Calculus.
  

These extravagant prices may be surprising (and alarming) to people who have been out of college for a few years, but for college students this is considered normal. In fact, when I reached out to students about the price of textbooks, about 50% answered that they have paid between 150-300+ for a textbook. Keep in mind, this is just one textbook for one semester. With four or five classes per semester, students may purchase up to 10 books in 1 school year. To avoid the cost of textbooks altogether, 58% of students admitted that they have ignored their teachers note to buy the required textbook. While some students felt this decision had no impact on their academic success, others (25%) felt that refusing to purchase the text did have a negative result on their grade.

Our logo, Sigmi, crying over $300 books
When asked about textbooks, some students laughed and confessed the great lengths they have gone to in order to avoid buying the text. A sophomore science major explained how she would visit the bookstore after class and take pictures of the homework problems assigned in her book. Unfortunately, she wasn’t as inconspicuous as she had hoped, and a book store employee put an end to her loophole. I had a similar experience in my freshman year math class, when one student in the class of 20 decided to purchase the book. A few of us decided to split the cost and pay her our portion of the price, and in return she would allow us to photograph the pages we needed. This worked for all parties, but when she was absent or forgot her book the whole class was at a stand still.

The tricks to avoid purchasing a textbook are pretty creative and highlight the dissatisfaction students feel about books. There is an underlying question that no one can seem to answer: Why are textbooks so expensive? 

Expensive is better? 
There is a common notion amongst consumers that more expensive goods must be of a higher quality. This imaged correlation between price and quality can help people justify paying more money for a specific brand or type of product. However, on many occasions, a more expensive product does not make it better. Only 7% of students feel that expensive textbooks are actually more beneficial to their education. The other 93%see no connection between price and quality in the textbook industry. 

Professors choose the text
Of course, there must be a unified syllabus with a textbook selection, made by the teacher. The problem is, most professors don't put too much thought into their students' wallets when selecting a textbook to assign. Professors don't pay for the text, so the price tag on the book isn't the first thing they look at. Publishing companies often convince professors to use the latest version of a textbook, which is almost always more costly. This brings us to the next point....

Publishers print new versions
Freshman typically spend more money on books than upperclassman, who learn to borrow books from friends that already took the same class. However, to eliminate this, publishers consistently publish updated versions. These versions may only have a few small changes, but can cost double an earlier version. 

The digital industry is still developing
Publishers often claim that the sole reason for the expense of textbooks is the cost of manufacturing. It may be true that textbooks are pricier to produce than other types of books, but why hasn't anything been done to change the industry standards? When every student has a laptop, cell phone, or iPod attached to their palm, why hasn't the digital textbook industry caught on more quickly? Over the past few years, several big name publishing companies have come out with digital editions, but very few students or professors are aware of digital options. Digital versions of textbooks are often less expensive and more accessible to students in this day in age. 

Don’t worry! The Center of Math is on your side!

David Massey, founder of The Worldwide Center of Mathematics, recognized this problem within the textbook industry. In hopes to combat the increasing rise in the cost of textbooks, the Center aims to create accessible and affordable mathematics materials for students and math enthusiasts alike. We recognized the benefits of the digital industry, and our digital books are only $9.95. Some students still prefer a hard copy, but don’t worry—that won’t break the bank either. Print copies only cost $29.95. Our goal is to help the math industry, so we have resources online that are open to the public, along with videos that accompany our books on our YouTube Channel.  (Almost at 10k subscribers—Go subscribe!). Along with academic texts, the Center is also involved in research. Massey’s Journal of Singularities is open source and accessible to anyone. In an industry that seems to be set on making learning more expensive for students, the Center of Math shows that it is possible to be affordable and educational. 




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