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Op-Ed: The Increasing Price of Textbooks

By Erin P. Capuano     Apr 27, 2012 in Technology
The increasing price of textbooks can be an additional financial burden to students already struggling with paying tuition. Here is just one way to loosen the noose of student loans.
So you think being a nerd in the real world is tough imagine what it must feel like being a nerd in college. With the cost of tuition, room & board, food, and feeding your latte fix most students have little leftover for those much needed textbooks and supplies. Now I'm not advocating choosing a latte over a textbook I'm just saying we need to make stuff a little more affordable to kids that's all. A higher education is so pivotal in these uncertain economic times having a degree can take you one step ahead of the competition in the job market but how can you get an education if you can't afford one. While I may not know a lot about financial aid and scholarships one thing I do know a great deal about is textbooks! Ah yes the good old textbook, remember back in grammar school when your Mother would cover them with old newspaper or brown paper bags and you'd lug those things back and forth in your book bag each day to and from school?
College students can pay anywhere from $20 to $300 each for their textbooks depending on what class they are taking if it has an accompanying DVD/CD ROM, workbook, etc. In fact between 1986 and 2004, textbook prices rose 186% in the United States for all you math nerds that's 6% per year (ACSFA College Textbook Cost Study Plan Proposal, Dr. James V. Koch, 9/2006). It was estimated in 2006 students would spend more than $4.9 billion on textbooks alone $1.9 billion, or 39% of that amount would have been spent on used textbooks. We are living in a time where publishers are raising their prices higher than the rate of inflation and there are no signs of slowing down let alone stopping. So what can a bookworm education conscious nerd do in such a situation?
Luckily its 2012, Happy New Year, a lot has changed since 2006 especially when it comes to technology the advancements seem limitless but one thing we can always count on is a way to make what used to be tangible, not. So let's talk turkey, Benjamin's, moola, cold hard cash yeah that stuff that you and your parents fight about the one thing you and your partner never agree on, that crap. The age of technology has made it possible to take a 900 page book and make it easily accessible in your hot little hands. Streamed from your iPod, iPhone, iPad, Kindle, Nook, Desktop, Laptop, Television, Tablets and maybe that projection screen down the block that the kid got the hamster on the wheel to make televise Telemundo. So what about the money you ask? For most books 99 cents seems to be the popular price but they range depending on the type of book and the publishing date newer books will of course run you more while the older classics can be purchased at a minimal price.
Michael Hart, a name you may not be familiar with, is the inventor of the eBook and sadly passed away in September of 2011. Michael found his inspiration to create the eBook while attending the University of Illinois in 1971 of course in those days his computer was the size of a room and he had to type each word of the book or paper into the computer himself before it was an actual eBook, talk about a daunting task. His first eBook was the Declaration of Independence and it was originally downloaded by six people thus giving birth to the eBook as we know it today. As of July 2011 there were 36,701 texts in more than 60 different languages available through Project Gutenberg which became a non-profit in 2005. Many authors credit the eBook for getting their book published because of its more investment friendly price tag.
Faculty at colleges are becoming more aware of the price of textbooks and have all gotten together to help relieve some of the pain students feel when swiping their card at the bookstore. Thousands of faculty members at various schools have signed the Student PIRGs - Public Interest Research Groups statement of intent to use free, online, open-source textbooks whenever possible in their classes. The Student PIRGs are also very active in trying to push government to change policies when it comes to education particularly pressuring Congress to address the textbook pricing issues. The House version of the Higher Education Reauthorization Act would require publishers to tell faculty the price of the book, the history of the revisions and whether any lower cost options exist.
While Project Guttenberg paved the way for many publishers to jump on the eBook bandwagon many sites are still overcharging for what should seemingly be affordable to everyone. Sites like textbookx who just launched their eReader offer many books for free and at a low affordable cost to the schools and institutions they represent. Their eBooks can be viewed on any number of digital tablets including computers and offer a variety of options like highlighting and comments.
Virtual bookstores like textbookx, owned by Akademos, Inc. est. 1999, are offering this option as a way to save students money on books so they can concentrate more on learning than stressing over debt and tuition. Working as a virtual bookstore for various colleges, schools and institutions textbookx offers a Marketplace where students can buy and sell their used textbooks or purchase alternate publications of textbooks by Flat World Knowledge. Flat World publishes exact replicas of textbooks in black and white at a much lesser price than the actual textbook would cost. Also, Flat World publishes its authors’ works under a Creative Commons open license, which allows students to access the content online for free, or buy low-cost print and digital versions for any computer, laptop, smartphone, tablet or e-reader.
Akademos has also teamed up with CoursePack to help faculty save their students money on textbooks, "CoursePack gives teachers and professors the ability to assemble and combine materials from various sources such as textbooks, digital media, and other articles. After clearing copyrights, the CoursePacks are made available to the students, reducing cost and the amount of books students are required to purchase (, 2011)." With all the great alternatives that are available for students companies like Akademos are putting it in the faculty's hands to help reduce the cost of textbooks on their students. CourseSmart can also be found through as Akademos utilizes their eBooks to offer students an alternative version to their assigned texts. When students purchase a CourseSmart eBook they are given an access code that will open their world to a virtual version of textbooks from Biology, to Zoology, Math, English, Religion and more.
Open Education Resources (OER), is a new concept that seems to be catching steam in the world of textbooks. It's the idea that high quality content can be produced by academic authors who are content in making no compensation for it. Rather it is created for the professional recognition they would garner and the ability to share their ideas with other colleagues in an open and free online environment. Schools would use OER in their tenure review process thus giving professors all the more incentive to produce high quality mind blowing work. Essentially authors could produce textbooks at no cost to the student or school and it would be online and free to share with other schools, teachers and professors. Teachers could adopt these books for their class thus saving the student a significant amount of cash that could be put to better use like buying Ramen noodles and microwavable Mac and Cheese.
Could incentives to educators for writing OER texts still be on the table, absolutely! Let's remember that while organizations can remain non-profit they can still offer financial incentive to attract the cream of the crop to produce OER materials. We all know that sometimes it's difficult to convince someone to do something for the good of the world or to help others without expecting something in return. Open Education Resources is still in its' early stage of production and theory and it's unknown yet the total impact this will have on the education system but one things' for sure it's an exciting time in technology and the possibilities are endless.
For generations we've relied on the education system to look out for our children's best interest to know they are getting a quality education at an affordable price but throughout the years many institutions' have lost sight of that. By putting this power back into the hands of the teachers and professors we can empower them to be more savings conscious while still giving students the useful tools they need to succeed in their studies. While we can debate the cost of tuition until the cows come home the smaller steps that precede tuition reduction can easily begin here with our teachers, professors and students getting involved in the change. Isn't the ultimate goal to make higher education free to all those who long for it? As the ever so philosophical group En Vogue once said, "Free your mind and the rest will follow."
Some References texbookx Akademos, Inc. Open Education Resources Commons Open Education Resources Consortium Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Flat World Knowledge, Inc. CoursePacks Project Gutenberg
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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