PSU Vanguard Shield Icon

Textbook rip-off?

“Students are paying way too much for textbooks,” Erin Fifield, the OSPIRG Affordable Textbooks campaign manager said. At the press release of OSPIRG’s comprehensive new report to show college textbooks are “Rip-Off 101” at the PSU Bookstore last Thursday morning, the problems, solutions, and plans of actions were presented on the issue of textbook affordability. According to the report, students spend, on average, $780 during 2003-2004 on textbooks.

David Wu, the first district congressman of Oregon said, “Recent reports have exposed many times that the exact same textbook is sold for much cheaper overseas than here (in the United States)…you shouldn’t have to pay more just for being an American.” The report revealed that buying a generic calculus textbook published by Thompson Learning costs American students $122, Canadian students $96, and British students $59 -for the exact same textbook.

Ken Brown, the PSU Bookstore manager explained that textbook corporations provide “different prices for developing countries and markets, yet, England is not a third world country.”

Fifield commented seriously, “What does Thompson Learning have against American students?”

Students can order their textbooks from international websites, thus paying less. Wu supported this idea, suggesting, “If college professors could put out their syllabus earlier students could endure the wait time for the book to ship over seas.”

The OSPIRG report, in addressing unaffordable textbooks, found that “half of all textbooks now come ‘bundled’-shrink-wrapped with additional instructional materials, such as CD-ROMs and workbooks.” In comparing the bundled and unbundled prices of “Chemistry: The Central Science” textbook published by Pearson Education, the report found that the bundled version costs $130 whereas the unbundled version costs $60. The report found that “65 percent of professors estimate they ‘never’ or ‘rarely’ include information from the additional bundled items in their courses.” The report relayed that 24 percent of professors “always” or “usually” use the extra materials and 11 percent use them “half of the time.”

Reading further between the lines, the report’s researchers found that new editions of textbooks are routinely re-published every three to four years. When new and used textbooks are juxtaposed by price, the report found that “the average price of the new edition is $102.44, compared with $64.80 for the used edition.”

When asking faculty if the new editions were necessary for changes in the field of study, the report found that 40 percent said new editions were “rarely or never” needed, 36 percent said “half of the time,” and 24 percent said new editions were “always or usually” needed.

The facts and figures aside, the costs of textbooks and the student’s search for finding the cheapest book are causing strife at PSU. Students are quoted in the PSU OSPIRG supplementary report When asked what they would do if they were able to save $100 a year on textbooks, one said, “I limit my class selection based on how much texts cost. Saving money would enable me to take different classes,” “I would be able to have more money to participate in other activities, and less time working to pay for books,” “I could eat something besides Top Ramen for a change.” The PSU OSPIRG supplementary report states that 82 percent of PSU students are considering using an online text swap and 20 percent already use online text swaps.

With many ideas of how to save money on textbooks, participants of the press release gave their own plans of action.

Congressman Wu has sponsored legislation (H.R. 3567) “to investigate the textbook industry’s pricing practices.” The investigative section of congress, the General Accounting Office (GAO), will look at the same issue raised in OSPIRG’s report. When asked how long it will take for the bill to be passed, Wu commented that “the timeline for the bill is less important than the fact that we will get the accounting office to investigate…it’s better to get it (the facts) right than rush it through.” Wu estimated that it would take a year and a half to two years to investigate the textbook industry and its practices.

Explaining the politics of getting a bill passed in Congress, Wu stressed that when it comes to multiple student issues, “If we can’t help here (on one issue), we’ll help over there.”

OSPIRG has created an online student book swap,, where students can exchange their used textbooks. Fifield said, “It will work if everyone does it, but everyone has to participate.” Fifield commented that she thought students will initially think it is easier to just buy their books at the PSU bookstore, “but when they see they can save $100 a term, they’ll use it.”

Presently, the PSU OSPIRG chapter is focusing on educating students on the issue and getting the information out.

Congressmen Wu stated in his press release, “Price gouging in any form is unacceptable, but it is particularly outrageous when it cheats students.”