UCSB Students Look for Textbook Alternatives Amid Rising Prices


Devin Martens-Olzman

The cost of textbooks has risen 82 percent in the past decade—three times the current rate of inflation—according to a CALPIRG press release. University of California, Santa Barbara students have noticed this increase, and the school has made some attempts to curtail the rising prices.

Renting textbooks has recently become popular, though rental options are only available for certain texts. Open textbooks, which are free to view online and download, are another possible solution. The trend of selling back the textbooks at the end of term has also been popular recently.

“That’s the real crime,” fourth-year psychology major Sanoop Desai said. “The book buyback programs literally only give you 10 percent of the price of the book originally and then have the audacity to sell the books back to students at really high prices.”

“The publishing industry continues to control the marketplace,” said CALPIRG in a press release.

Publishing companies like Pearson Education, producers of books like University Physics, continue to increase their textbook prices despite the economic downturn.

“It’s ridiculous how companies release new editions every year without any noticeable difference,” fourth-year mechanical engineering Holden Tamchin said. “And then the teachers force the students to continue spending tons of money needlessly on books.”

For example, English Professor Maurizia Boscagli assigned the novel “Mrs. Dalloway” in addition to the Norton Anthology of British Literature for this quarter’s 20th Century British Literature course. However, the complete novel was also included in the anthology, rendering the separate purchase of “Mrs. Dalloway” redundant.

“It’s so frustrating when I already pay more than $1,200 a year on books for class and it turns out I don’t even need all of them,” said Daniel O’Connor, a fourth-year global studies major in Boscagli’s class.

With textbook costs increasing, some students have resorted to more felonious methods of learning: downloading and sharing textbooks. There exist multiple peer-to-peer clients on the Internet where one can easily download many textbooks—from the physical sciences all the way to the liberal arts.

“I have a book this quarter that was over $250,” said a fourth-year mechanical engineering major who wished to remain anonymous. “But I haven’t bought a book since freshman year, and there’s no way I’m paying that. It’s so much easier to just download them or get them from upperclassmen.”

The University of Michigan did a national study concerning the cost of textbooks in 2009 and found two major contributors to the rise in textbook costs.

“The most widely used textbooks have new editions published every three to four years and they cost, on average, 50% more than the previous editions…the new editions are only justified half the time or less,” according to CALPIRG

Another major contributing factor is the notion that the people who choose the textbooks are not the ones who pay for them. Preston McAfee, an economics professor at California Institute of Technology, relates this issue to the prescription drug market.

“Both textbook publishers and drug makers benefit from the problem of ‘moral hazards’—that is, the doctor who prescribes medication and the professor who requires a textbook don’t have to bear the cost and usually don’t think twice about it,” McAfee said.

Though there are many factors leading to textbook rise, there are also political movements to lower the costs for students.

The College Opportunity and Affordability Act, one step in this direction, was presented to the House of Representatives in 2007.  The bill requires publishers to “unbundle the increasingly common and expensive packages of textbooks, CD-ROMs, workbooks, and Web tools.” The bill passed and became Public law 110-315 and was set to take place in 2010.

“A public school is supposed to be a school supported by public funds,” fourth-year mechanical engineer Fernando Corona said. “You would think they would pay for the books.”

For more information about CALPIRG and their campaign to make textbooks affordable visit calpirgstudents.org/campaigns/ca/make-textbooks-affordable.