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article imageOp-Ed: Since 1978 college textbooks increased 812% in price

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By Ken Hanly     Jan 6, 2013 in Business
The rate of increase in textbook prices since 1978 has been faster than tuition, health care, or housing and far faster than the inflation rate for all goods.
The American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, reported the data. Mark Perry, an economics professor at the University of Michigan wrote at AEideas blog:"The 812 percent increase in the price of college textbooks since 1978 makes the run-up in house prices and housing bubble (and subsequent crash) in the 2000s seem rather inconsequential and the nine-fold increase in textbook prices also dwarfs the increase in the cost of medical services over the last three decades."
According to the National Association of College Stores the average student will spend $665 on texts each year. This is probably much too low a figure. A single text book can now cost up to $300. The College Board puts the annual cost of books and materials at $1,168.
Publishers often bundle supplementary materials such as CD-ROMs and access to websites with texts and this drives up the price of the text. Used textbooks are often bought by students and hence after a few years demand for new texts drops. Publishers solve this problem by publishing new editions on an average of every 3.9 years. Sometimes the new editions are just different enough as to make the old edition not quite suitable for continued use. A 2008 report by the California state auditor found that many faculty members found that revisions were often minimal and new editions not needed.
However, there is a growing "open educational resources" movement that is causing anxiety within the small cartel of textbook publishers. A new startup named Boundless.com now offers a service called "textbook replacement". Over the last decade, much academic content has been made available free on the Internet. The open educational resources(OER) movement has been able to provide texts, videos, charts, and other quality content on a large number of subjects. Some of the material is by authors or professors who desire to share their work and other material is sponsored by nonprofit organizations wishing to promote education in the developing world and through an open Internet.
The case of a very popular introductory text in economics is instructive. Gregory Mankiw authored the immensely popular text, Principles of Economics, that now has a list price of exactly $293.95. If you are assigned to read certain chapters of Mankiw's book, for example Chapter 4 on Principle of Supply and Demand, instead of buying the text, you can go to Boundless.com and get free content covering the same ground and even optimized for your tablet or e-reader. This does not go down well with textbook publishers. As Slate puts it: "Naturally, the small group of major publishers that controls the lion’s share of the $7 billion textbook market is now trying sue Boundless out of existence. They don’t argue that Boundless actually copies what’s written in their textbooks, because it doesn’t. Instead, they argue that the order of chapters is sacrosanct—as if deciding to put “Principles of Supply and Demand” before “Elasticity” is so complicated and critical that it’s worth $293.95."
No doubt the publishers would claim its a bit more complicated than that but no doubt the general idea is correct. The publishers will take every possible measure to stop Boundless from destroying their cash cow. For more see this article as well.
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 DigitalJournal.com
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