College Textbooks 101
Hi. Mickey works at a college. It's a nice college. And, inexpensive! They hire cheap labor. Consequently, it's very crowded because business is booming. Maybe that's because there's so many displaced workers. And maybe, lots of parents are looking at their kid's college fund and noticing it is now only half of a college fund, or none of a college fund. That's because they were forced to fund their groceries with the fund. And, that's not fun.
The college Mickey works at is open enrollment, which means they take anyone. Some colleges screen people according to their score on the SAT. Mickey's college accepts people if they can spell "SAT".
So, Mickey works at the nice, inexpensive, crowded college that accepts anyone. And sometimes, he gets involved with the selection of textbooks, the system for which is very, very broken and leaves students with less of a college fund, or a more negative college fund.
Mickey hates when students don't buy their textbooks. But, ya know what he hates even more? When students buy the textbooks! Because he thinks they get the shaft and now he's ready to blow the whistle. Woooot woooot!
How much is a textbook worth?
Let's play a game! I'll describe a chemistry book to you and you guess how much the college bookstore charges for it. Okay? Here goes…
It's hard cover, about 750 pages and has a picture of bunch of purple grapes on the front.
Over 150 bucks!
Now think about what you would pay for a hardcover book of the similar number of pages on Amazon. Say Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.
I dunno, but it ain't no 150 bucks.
And what's up with the irrelevant pictures on the cover of a textbook? Once I saw a chemistry text with a dude jumping over a hurdle on the front? What does chemistry have to do with a dude jumping a hurdle?
I suppose his post-race blood tests…
I guess what I am trying to say here is, textbooks are way overpriced. So, the next question is…why?
Hey! I just asked that!
And the answer is; textbooks cost way too much because the ones who decide to adopt it don't ever have to pay for it. .
Here's how it works: Every three years (we'll get to that later), a book goes out of print. Close to that time, book sales reps can actually detect the scent of the book going out of print and swarm the college campus like bees at a picnic. Usually, the book reps are very attractive hooters, uh…I mean, people who are dressed nicely in hooters, uh, I mean tight sweaters and big boobs. I meant boots! They basically bribe the faculty into liking their books and giving it consideration for adoption when the other textbook runs out.
Now, I'll let you in on a secret…there are different levels of bribery. Yeah, there's sex and money. But college chemistry teachers, for example are usually lower on the bribery scale, somewhere down around "free cookies". So, around textbook adoption time, the big boobed sales reps stop by to say hi and bring some free cookies.
Suddenly, a chemistry book with purple grapes on the cover don't seem so stupid anymore, eh?
Why not buy used books?
Textbooks go out of print every three years for a good reason. Our world will be a totally different place in three years. We'll probably be driving around in nuclear-powered hovercrafts. So, to keep with these changing times, the publisher of the book must make drastic changes. For example, that photo insert of a puffer fish on page 299. What were they thinking? That really should have been a photo of a starfish! So, when the next edition of the book rolls out, it will for damn sure have a starfish in it. Stuff like that.
And of course, there is the fact that used textbooks are cheaper for the student and earn the publisher no profit. But, that's only a small matter. So, textbooks are drastically changed by changing puffer fish photos and changing homework problem number 14 to number 15. And innovations like these cause students to pay a tiny wee bit more for a new book every three years. Like a factor of two or so.
What do instructors do?
Instructors have it tough. They can only ask for and receive maybe 17 free books from the book sales rep before anyone really starts to take notice. Even then, it is sometimes an "instructors edition" with highlighted answers in the back. That makes it a little tough to sell on eBay. So, please, give these poor folks a break.
Instructors do pay a great deal of attention to the price of a book when they make their selection. Nah! I was totally bullshitting you. They look at the fancy pictures, the sales reps boobs and the free cookies. Price does not factor into it one lick because once again, the instructors do not buy the book and represent a totally disinterested party. If you ask a sales rep for pricing info and tell them you are comparing it versus their competitors the rep will look at you like you have a third eyeball in the middle of your forehead.
Textbooks are expensive because the people shopping for them do not pay for them and they are published on a completely unnecessarily long three year publication cycle. But not to worry, this only accounts for a cost factor of maybe two or three. Have a nice day.