Textbooks are a $4 billion-a-year industry.
Textbooks are a $4 billion-a-year industry.

College textbooks: the ultimate rip-off

In a few hours, I will -- like many Milwaukeeans -- begin yet another semester of college.

While, as a 30-year-old, I will have very little in common with a majority of my classmates, we will more-than-likely have something in common when we sit down for the first class of the semester:

We all have been royally jobbed by textbook publishers.

For my five classes this year, by total book bill is $327.24. As I tried to put things in perspective, that's a little more than 65 percent of my monthly rent. And for what? In a year-and-a-half, I've taken very little from the book that less-than-reputable sources like Wikipedia provide for free.

The wordiness of the text and implied pompousness of the authors -- obviously, people who couldn't cut it as a writer or a professional in the real world -- make these books nothing more than an incredibly expensive paperweight.

What's more unsettling is, as my professors hand out the semester's syllabus and discuss the next few weeks, at least one will say "we probably won't use the book very much" and another will tell us to "take what you read with a grain of salt."

If that's the case, why are they requiring us to shell out for these texts?

Quite simply, it's a racket. The schools cash in by charging outrageous sums and then, at semester's end, give back a mere fraction of the original cost. (Last semester, I bought a book that never got used, returned it in its original wrapping, and received 17 percent of what I originally paid).

Sure, there are alternatives. Half.com, Textbooks.com and a host of other Web sites provide a means for buyers and sellers to get books at a reduced price, but it's still ridiculous to think that college textbooks, according to The New York Times, are a $4 billion-a-year industry.

I can handle high gas prices, because ultimately, I get something for my money. Same goes for the price of milk and everything else that is jacked up in the slumping economy. But I cannot, for the life of me, find any justification for a $100 book on the art of public speaking.

I haven't even made it onto campus yet and I'm already in a foul mood. It's going to be a great semester.

Talkbacks

alba | Aug. 26, 2008 at 10:51 a.m. (report)

I always bought used books. I would look for the ones with the most highlighted items and notes written into the pages, hoping the last user paid better attention in class than I would.

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littlelamb | Aug. 25, 2008 at 11:00 p.m. (report)

Many of the profs at MATC in the Nat Sci department were really good about letting you use older editions of the texts. Best bet is to always go to the class first and figure out if you have time to buy them online.

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rnzh102 | Aug. 25, 2008 at 3:17 p.m. (report)

University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire----WE RENTED BOOKS.....all of my friends really hated me when I went to college because I never bought any books. I was torn between UWM, UW-La Crosse and UWEC but one factor I considered was the fact that I could rent books instead of buy them and I probably saved about $5000. This was not the deciding factor in where I went to school but it sure was a big plus.

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Z_boy | Aug. 25, 2008 at 1:30 p.m. (report)

I don't think that the author of this article was trying to do a "one up" on people. This is not a piece on "I paid $900, you only paid $700, so stop your whining."

Jeez, the author was just using himself as an example. We all have our own examples -- some are just higher than others. The story is about the insanely high prices of college textbooks, combined with the fact that they aren't even used (or rarely used) a lot of times to justify the need for the purchase.

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CrustyJoe | Aug. 25, 2008 at 11:39 a.m. (report)

The last few semesters of my college career I simply put off buying books until I needed to read them. I ended up buying one book.

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