One week into classes at Kansas University, Nick McCoy has spent around $800 on books.
"You need money to do stuff. You need money to go out," the Overland Park junior said. "But you've got to pay for textbooks first. You can't just show up without the textbooks."
McCoy isn't alone. Many students still feel the pressure of expensive textbooks.
Some Web sites, like half.com and the social networking site Facebook, offer chances to nab cheaper textbooks from across the country. At the university, KU Bookstores have increased the number of used books and offer a 5 percent discount for students who pre-order.
Yet these cost-reducing efforts can be stymied by custom printing and regularly updated textbooks.
Thea Perry, Lawrence sophomore, said she spent $700 on books and materials this semester. She was particularly frustrated when books commonly used by other universities were printed with several KU-unique pages, limiting the ability to resell them.
"I purchased very expensive chemistry books this spring and summer," she said. "They were KU-specific and have a few extra pages in the back of the book written by a longtime chemistry professor at KU. This fall, they are no longer being used."
Perry said she would prefer to see the unique information presented separately from the book. That way, she said, after students no longer needed the book they could still try to recoup some money.
Steve Rhodes, director of KU Bookstores, said some custom publishing can be beneficial. By picking sections from various books, professors can cobble together several readings. This prevents students from having to purchase multiple books for only a few readings.
However, the resale value of these printings is almost nonexistent.
There is some hope, though.
Chris Crandall, professor of psychology, said he felt many students could save money by educating themselves on textbook options. The College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2008 looks to offer some help in that area.
The act, which was signed into law Aug. 14, requires publishers to reveal how much they charge universities for books versus how much they charge the public. Publishers must also state whether the textbook is available in other formats, including paperback, unbound or online, and how much the alternatives cost.
Crandall said he was trying to find ways to move some of his readings online. All of the texts in one of his courses are available on a Web site accessible only to his students. However, he said he thought it wasn't feasible at present for every course to post readings to a Web site.
"There's no substitute for a fine textbook," he said. "I don't think online can push out physical textbooks anytime soon."
Recent research may support Crandall's theory. A report released Wednesday by the Student Public Interest Research Groups found that many publishers' online textbooks weren't much cheaper than the print counterparts. In fact, many of the e-books reviewed by the group cost the same or more.
The report said that digital textbooks are a promising solution to lower costs, but they have to be affordable and easily accessible to students.