Textbook Prices Continue To Increase

Textbook prices increased 64 percent from 1994 to 2005, while the price of general books only 19 percent.
Textbook prices increased 64 percent from 1994 to 2005, while the price of general books only 19 percent.

The SUNY New Paltz branch of New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG)  is working on lowering the price of textbooks.

Using NYPIRG’s Affordable Higher Education campaign, New Paltz Project Coordinator Eric Wood said it has helped to provide more affordable textbook options.

“Textbook prices have been increasing at an alarming rate for years. In the last couple of semesters we have seen students spending hundreds of dollars for individual books,” Wood said.

From 1994 to 2005, Wood said, textbook prices jumped 64 percent, while prices for general books only increased by 19 percent in the same period. From 1990 to 2009, textbook wholesale prices rose over four times the rate of inflation, he said.

Wood said NYPIRG wants professors to use the same editions of books for multiple years in a row, “as long as the content is substantially similar.”

“Often there are just a few changes made from one edition to the next,” he said. “If professors assign older editions, students can easily find used books at more affordable prices.”

Vendors like Mando Books and Amazon.com may provide cheaper routes for textbooks, but sometimes do not offer the brand new editions professors are looking for, Wood said.

“One of the new trends we have seen students turning to is textbook rental services like Chegg.com, which allows students to get their books cheaply for the semester and not have to worry about selling it back later,” he said.

The Bookstore @ New Paltz implemented the “100 percent Rental Program” for students in January 2011 where students can rent a textbook for a fraction of the price, according to Manager Kelly Junkins. Students do need a credit card to secure the rental but can pay in cash or even use their financial aid to pay for it, she said.

Junkins said although the bookstore prefers purchasing used textbooks, they must purchase new editions if instructors require it.

“Every year the publishers raise their prices on their textbooks. I know as far as they raise their prices, we have to raise ours to cover our costs,” she said. “Used book prices tend to decrease over time because the older they get, the deeper a discount we get on the books and the cheaper we can sell them to the students.”

Junkins said she noticed that many times a new edition would come out, but very little information changes.

“There used to be a law where one third of the textbook material had to be altered, deleted or added. Now, it changed to where they can change the color of a cover and they can go to a new edition,” she said. “The information may not be different at all, it could be one page of difference and they make a new edition. We try to convince instructors to stay with the older editions and educate them on the fact that not all this information is so very different when a new edition comes out.”

The bookstore is also looking at working with smaller custom publishing companies, Junkins said.

“We’re tapping into every resource we can to make it as cheap as we can for the students because we want their business and we want to show them that we can provide them what they need,” she said. “One of the biggest goals we’re trying to reach right now is to keep the costs down so the students know that these prices don’t have to go up for them every year.”

Wood said they are working to reduce “ballooning textbook costs right now.”

To combat the costs, Wood initiated an event on campus to get students’ attention.

“We’ll be educating students and professors about more affordable options that they can take as early as next semester, and speaking with our legislators through the spring semester to make the case for more affordable textbooks,” he said.

Fourth-year sociology major with a concentration in human services Ilana Wexler is a member of NYPIRG and has noticed increasing textbook prices.

“I noticed the issue of overpriced books my freshman year when I had to buy a science book for like $100 and had zero intention of going into science as a major, but couldn’t sell my book back because there was a new edition coming out,” she said. “It turns out that professor who taught the class even allowed people to use the older edition so I was able to lend it to people.”

Wexler said she feels the only changes that can be made are campus-related.

“I don’t think anybody has the ability to change publishing companies standards within the near future. However, with dialogue between students and faculty, I think we can find a way to mitigate textbook costs for students while still ensuring the highest standards of education,” she said.