Of Books and Money

posted in School on Aug 24, 2006

Another school year rolls by and yet another mass of young adults ascends into the hallowed walls of acadamia…that is, if you’ve got the cash. This isn’t about school itself. College is hardly cheap anywhere in the country, and to get a “good” education you’re going to have to pay out the liver for it. But let’s say that you’ve already been accepted to school. Let’s say that you have tuition paid for through scholarships or what-have-you. What really else is there? Textbooks.

The textbook industry is rakes in more money than a WWII era Taiwanese hooker in Hawaii. Take, for example, the price that it would have cost me to buy the four required textbooks for the three classes I have this semester (yes, only three. Grad studies are fun!): $500. Granted, these are the prices for brand new books, and they obviously have a mark-up from the college bookstore itself, so let’s pretend that the school marks their books up by 20%. Now we have $400. For 4 books. Doesn’t that just seem ridiculous? On top of everything else: tuition, fees, room and board…books just add that extra sting to going to school. Is there really a need for them to be so balls out expensive?

Let’s look at the books that I had to buy this year to help with that question. I have three classes: Economics, Stats for Managers, and International Business. All three of these classes are business classes (duh), and these type books are generally more expensive, but come on. All three of those classes had a book that was $150 (with the exception of Stats, which had a workbook for $50). There’s a lot of things that I could do with half a grand, and buying four books is not real high on that list. That’s half a decent computer, or ten games, or a Wii and five or so games. So why are they so expensive? All of these books have color pictures and charts, and they all come with online components that “enhance the learning experience.” It’s unfortunate that the bookstore won’t take back the books once the cds have been taken out or once you use the online stuff, otherwise students might actually get some use out of these extra features. So basically, these are the things that most likely drive up the price, outside of just plain greed. College is most definitely a hot ticket right now, and I can’t necessarily blame the textbook companies for wanting to make a profit. But the prices are just insane. There is a glimmer of hope, however, and it comes by the conflation of the internet and foreign countries.

Just as easy as going into the bookstore and selling your soul for a textbook your professor may or may not use, you can go online to Amazon or Half.com and find almost anything you need, generally for a fraction of the cost. This intelligent writer did just that for this school year and saved $250 off of that $500 price tag. I found all three of those $150 dollar books online, and the grand total came to $208, instead of $450, with the most expensive book being $80, new. I couldn’t find the workbook online, so I’ll just have to pony up for that one.

Another interesting thing you’ll see about online book shopping, is that you can get the international versions of the books. These versions are generally exactly the same as the US versions, but are super cheap. According to my International Business professor, who absolutely abhors the idea of Americans buying these types of books, the international textbooks are made for those families in less wealthy countries to consume. I can understand this. I’m not deaf to their plight, but when I look at myself, and the money that I am making right now, I can’t but help to, well, not feel bad about buying them. If I can save tons of money on books that would otherwise cost me gazillions of dollars, who am I really hurting? The intended families of these books will, and can, just go and buy themselves a copy. There’s not a finite number of textbooks produced. If demand is increased, so will supply. One could argue that the textbook companies are losing revenue, but I don’t think that they would sell these books for a loss anywhere, regardless of whether or not the poorer families could afford it. If they can sell the books that cheap in other countries and still turn some black, why can’t they do it here? Greed.

So to round out this post, I’ll just say this: Do yourself a favor and give your campus bookstore two big middle fingers while you literally save hundreds of dollars by buying the same stuff online.