Archive for Thursday, March 29, 2007

Professor helps cut rising cost of books

Effort to lower prices of required texts getting nationwide attention

March 29, 2007


Craig Martin, a Kansas University professor and chairman of the department of ecology and evolutionary biology, has been involved with a national movement to help offer students a lower price for their textbooks. Three years ago Martin put two textbook publishing companies in a bidding war for the lowest sale price and in doing so was able to offer his students their required text at nearly half of the initial price.

Craig Martin, a Kansas University professor and chairman of the department of ecology and evolutionary biology, has been involved with a national movement to help offer students a lower price for their textbooks. Three years ago Martin put two textbook publishing companies in a bidding war for the lowest sale price and in doing so was able to offer his students their required text at nearly half of the initial price.

When Kansas University professor Craig Martin battled publishing companies to ensure the lowest textbook price for his students, he joined a growing movement to make textbooks more affordable.

Three years ago, Martin, professor and chairman of the department of ecology and evolutionary biology, haggled with two publishing companies, playing their offers off each other, until he got the book down to $49, nearly half the price of the original offer. The act garnered attention and further involved him in the campaign at KU and across the country to lower students' textbook costs.

"I've always been conscious of the price students cough up for textbooks, and it's gotten out of hand," Martin said.

Textbook prices have increased at four times the rate of inflation since 1994, and college students can expect to spend an average of $900 a year on books, according to the Affordable Textbooks Campaign's Web site. That's nearly 20 percent of the cost of in-state tuition at KU.

"I have to spend all of my money on books; therefore, at the beginning of the semester I have a lot less money to spend on things like rent, utilities and all the other costs of attending school," KU senior Hillary Stroda said.

Bob Basow, KU associate journalism professor, and Hannah Love, a junior and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences student senator, assembled a task force of students, faculty and staff to propose solutions.

"We want to see all parties involved working together and on the same page," Love said. "Addressing the problem has been in talks and in the works, and now we see it going forward."

The proposal includes working closely with KU Bookstores to encourage faculty to preorder books further in advance, giving the bookstore more time to purchase used and new copies at the lowest price and students more time to look to alternatives, such as the Internet, for purchasing books. In addition, the task force developed plans for a textbook addition to the KU Libraries where students can check out books and supplemental materials at no cost. The KU Student Senate will fund the library project.

"The library plan was a puzzle piece no one else would have seen," Basow said. "Communication between the Student Senate and the library was just brilliant. It's a real KU first."

Bruce Hildebrand, executive director for higher education for the Association of American Publishers, said publishers do not deserve the blame they receive about rising textbook prices.

"Students need to remember that there is a huge range in textbook prices," he said. "It's not the price of the book, per se, but the price of the book the faculty chooses."

Hildebrand said textbook publishing companies are also working to offset textbook costs by offering more low-frills editions and encouraging faculty to consider customized textbooks. Customized books allow faculty to create an edition that includes only the chapters that will be covered in the course.

Used-book factor

KU psychology professor David Holmes has published several textbooks he uses in his classes. He supports initiatives to lower costs for students, and he has used cost-saving techniques with his own books, such as ordering notebook-style books instead of hardcover copies. He also said used-book companies contribute to the cost of new textbooks.

"My publisher estimated that my textbooks were used at least four times before they fell apart or we brought out a new edition," Holmes said. "In short, because of the used-book companies, publishers sell fewer books than they used to, and to cover their production costs, they must put a higher price on the books they sell."

As campus groups and publishing companies work to address the problem, lawmakers are taking notice.

Last month 17 states, including Kansas, were considering bills addressing textbook costs. Basow said the Kansas bill was withdrawn following testimony that showed that what the bill proposed was essentially already in the works at KU.

At the request of Congress, last September the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance started a yearlong study to examine the issue.

The study includes three field hearings, in Illinois, California and Oregon, to give those involved an opportunity to weigh in on the problem. Information collected from the hearings will be used in a final report that is expected to be delivered to Congress by May. Martin was invited to speak at the December hearing in Chicago.

"At first I felt like a fish out of water because any idea I had, there was an expert on," Martin said. "But everyone who spoke after me referred to what I said. The congressional committee thanked me profusely."

Martin presented the ideas of the KU task force, as well as ideas he is already implementing with his own classes such as ordering unbound books or having books custom-made to include only selected chapters. Martin said he thought his presentation was well received because it showed that faculty members are genuinely concerned about and proactive in fixing the problem.

"The bottom line is I'm here to serve students," Martin said.

- Journal-World intern Anne Burgard can be reached at 832-7154.


samsnewplace 11 years, 3 months ago

Way to go Professor Martin, all schools need more caring souls like you for our young adults. I have two children in college and the cost is unbelievable and they are doing it all on their own, working, student loans and sometimes grants. It's a very tough world we live in today, full of GREED, it's nice to know there are folks out there like yourself who want to make the world better but not by paying through the nose for it.

Linda Endicott 11 years, 3 months ago

I think the idea to have textbooks available to rent at the library is a wonderful idea.

Younger students in public schools rent their textbooks. Why shouldn't college students be able to?

don_burgess 11 years, 3 months ago

Good job Craig.

Like physicians marketing drugs to their patients, teachers are slowly turning into publisher "lobbyists" at the universities or colleges where they "push" their products onto the students.

It's OK to have a book expese budget for your textbooks, but bookstores and publishers are totally taking advantage of the system buy gouging their prices. (The buyback is always an insult)

MY advice to students - Ask the professor at the end of the semester if they are teaching the same class next semester and if they are planning on using the same required books for their class.

If this is the case, HOLD ONTO your books and wait til the following semester! (I know it's hard) Then, you show up to the class for the first day and sell it to a fellow student for %25 more than what the theiving bookstore was offering. The fellow student will save also on the purchase. Jayhawk bookstore or UBS or whoever can be cut out of the equasion and everyone will be happy.

If you are law student - go here!

Joel Hood 11 years, 3 months ago

I have both a BS and MA from KU, so I have had a some experience with different instructors. What I want to know is why so many professors required many different books for a particular class and then require little or no reading from many of those texts. I have purchased books costing $60-$100 that were never used in a class and then had almost no resale value at the end of the semester. No explanation given. Does this happen a lot to other students? Do universities track this type abuse?

salad 11 years, 3 months ago

want cheap textbooks? & of course It's really easy to breakeven on textbooks by reselling your old books online at the end of the semester for the same amount you paid for em. Overseas editions are also really cheap

imastinker 11 years, 3 months ago

I'm glad to see someone at ku battling to fight this. I still have a very sour taste in my mouth from KU involving money. I for one will not be a member of the williams fund.

Althea Schnacke 11 years, 3 months ago

If Martin went with the regular edition of the textbook, the new price would be $80, used $60. Bookstores will buy the book back for $40. Actual cost for students with the regular edition (if they buy used copies): $20. This isn't possible with a custom book, the book is worthless after the semester is over.

tir 11 years, 3 months ago


The LJ World got it wrong about textbook rental--the plan was NOT for KU Library to rent textbooks to students, but rather put the textbooks on reserve and let students check them out. Read this story in the Kansan for the facts:

imastinker 11 years, 3 months ago


I noticed the same thing. I didn't mine paying what I did for the textbooks I kept either because they will stya in good shape with the hardback. I don't like custom books either. Shaftel uses one in Accounting 101 and I really hated it. He says he saved us money but I don't think he did.

Linda Endicott 11 years, 3 months ago

Ok, so they got it wrong...

However, it still sounds like a wonderful idea to me. Why can't they let students rent books?

Yeah, there might be a few of them each year that they don't get back. But for the ones that they do, they can rent them out again the next year.

Unless the prof decides to use a different edition.

Seems to me that the publishers could still make money if they had online versions of all the texts they print, and for a yearly fee any university could be granted unlimited access to said text for its students.

Isaac McPheeters 11 years, 2 months ago

I talked to Craig about this very thing over lunch a while ago. He thought it amusing that newspapers liked to say he was "battling" the publishing companies, when really all he's trying to do is help students.

I must say that I am grateful to him for his help in the matter, since undergrads don't have much choice in the matter of textbooks. It's nice to have people trying to help us out here and there, and I am very grateful to the efforts of Prof. Martin.

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