Archive for Monday, September 1, 2008

Students navigate expensive, changing landscape of textbooks

Kansas University students pick up textbooks last week at the KU Bookstore in the Kansas Union. From left are sophomores Stephanie Hermreck, Ottawa, Diana Kaepplinger, Chicago, and Erin Stork, Topeka.

Kansas University students pick up textbooks last week at the KU Bookstore in the Kansas Union. From left are sophomores Stephanie Hermreck, Ottawa, Diana Kaepplinger, Chicago, and Erin Stork, Topeka.

September 1, 2008


KU students busy buying textbooks

Classes just started at KU, but students are already looking forward to selling their books back at the end of the semester. Enlarge video

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 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.


britt408 9 years, 8 months ago

I discovered a couple years back and it has saved me tons of money. It searches all of the online booksellers, then sorts them for you automatically from cheapest to most expensive (including shipping). Much better than searching around every single website.

kujayhawk 9 years, 8 months ago

I heard professors receive kick backs for requiring the latest editions.

Alexander Neighbors 9 years, 8 months ago

I just go into the book store read what ever I am supposed to then jet

LogicMan 9 years, 8 months ago

"I heard professors receive kick backs for requiring the latest editions."I doubt that is widespread, if true at all. The author of the book, however, likely receives royalties whenever new books are sold.

Sean Livingstone 9 years, 8 months ago

There is always the Amazon to get your textbook. As an instructor here at KU, I always expect my studets to write to me about what textbooks I will be using. I don't mind if they buy a lower edition, and I will always work to accomodate that. Lower edition textbooks tend to be cheaper in most ways. But if my students want the latest version, they shouldn't come to me and complain about the price. Cheers.

sourpuss 9 years, 8 months ago

When I put together a course, one of my considerations is expense. Often, I will choose a cheap overview type of book for the general issues of the course, and then I will augment that with selected readings that I make available online. I also find that making the materials cheap and accessible makes it more likely the reading will be done. I also use the same book every time. There is really no excuse to "update" a calculus book or a first-year chemistry text. What could possibly have changed in these fields that an entire new textbook is needed? Can we now divide by zero? Has the nature of carbon changed?

mom_of_three 9 years, 8 months ago

There is another similiar website out there, too, directtextbooks online or something like that. I have found all of my on amazon or bought them used from another student, and saved a ton of money.

Jim Williamson 9 years, 8 months ago

Richard DeGeorge of the philosophy department became one of my favorite teachers the first day of class back in the 80s. He pointed out that one of the required texts was one that he had authored. He said that he got $2.17 for every new book purchased at the bookstore and that it was clearly a conflict of interest for him to require students to buy his book. So, he explained, for every student who came to class and showed him a new copy of the book along with their bookstore receipt, he would give them a rebate of $2.17. He had about a half-dozen little tiny envelopes in his pocket, each with $2.17 in it, and at the beginning of class, he'd look around the room and ask, "Rebates? Anyone getting a rebate today?"

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