Welcome back, now give us all your money

Nothing is more frustrating at the start of every new semester than waiting in line for an hour to spend $500 on books your professor will likely only touch upon a few times. Buying your textbooks is a quick way to turn that “This semester is going to be a good one!” attitude into “Is it summer yet?”

I have a friend who literally bought a car for less than I’ve ever spent on a semester’s books. Granted, it wasn’t the prettiest little lady on four wheels, but I’m sure he used that thing more than most people do their textbooks – and it lasted him more than a single semester (although not by much).

Why do textbooks cost so much? Simply because they can, according to some experts. In an article for the New York Times, James V. Koch compared the textbook market to the market for pharmaceuticals: “The people who have the most influence over what is purchased (doctors and professors) don’t have to pay for their choices. Students do.” Students cannot decide which textbook to use, regardless of whether or not there is a similar-quality book at a lower price. The publishing companies themselves have little incentive to reduce the cost of their products due to the highly inelastic demand for them. To put it simply, students pay whatever price is set, regarding it as the necessary cost of education.

In addition, buying e-books, electronic versions of textbooks, can sometimes prove to be more expensive than print versions, since they do not have a resale value. Even the new textbook rental system this semester at UH does not offer books at rates low enough to be particularly appealing, since renting a book negates the possibility of selling the book later. For instance, a new print textbook costs $150, sells for $100 used, and can be sold back to the bookstore for $50. The final cost to the student ends up being $100 if bought new, or 50 dollars if bought used. Now suppose the bookstore offers the same book as an e-book or rental for the semester and prices it at 75 dollars. Compared to both the new and used print textbooks, this appears to be the better deal, as the initial ticket price is much cheaper. However, in this case, it would turn out to be more expensive in the long run.

Buying textbooks online is a great way to beat the high prices offered at the university bookstore. You can often find books at substantially lower prices than at the bookstore. You can also sell your old books for much higher prices than the bookstore will offer you. Another option to sell your old books is to contact your previous professors and let them know you are willing to sell your book to one of their current students. Professors will often let the class know, and both you and the student buying the textbook can benefit from cutting out the middleman.

With the cost of higher education continuing to skyrocket, and returns on education declining, it is imperative each student does what he or she can to fight increasing textbook costs. Each dollar you spend on a college textbook is an investment in your future, but the pressing question is, what kind of investor are you? Are you funneling unnecessary amounts of money into a product with grossly inflated costs and speculative returns?


View the Ka Leo article here


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