The “Somebody Else’s Money” Problem: NPR Explores the Rise in College Textbook Prices

Posted October 13th, 2014 in News by Micah Jenkins

David Kestenbaum and Jacob Goldstein of NPR’s Planet Money assert that the rising cost of textbooks can, in part, be attributed to one simple economic tenet: the “principal-agent problem,” or as Kestenbaum and Goldstein jokingly refer to it, “the somebody else’s money problem.”

The principal-agent problem is most simply described as a conflict of interest that arises when the person who decides to buy something (the agent) isn’t the person who has to pay for it (the principal). Within the context of textbook adoptions, students are the principals, tacitly agreeing to let their professors choose course materials on their behalf. College professors act as the agents, and make the final decision regarding which textbooks will be required for their courses. The conflict arises when sales representatives from publishing companies present their textbooks to professors for adoption. They expand on the expensive extra features and attributes of the textbooks they are trying to sell and never mention the price of the items. Professors never think to ask about the price because it is the students who ultimately have to bear the burden of the cost.

Other factors contributing to the high cost of textbooks include a growing used textbook market, textbook rental options, the availability of illegal textbook downloads, and students choosing not to purchase the textbook at all. This creates a cyclical problem wherein students continue to find creative ways to avoid buying textbooks, and publishers continue to raise their prices to recover profit losses.

In an effort to maintain control of the textbook market, and offer cheaper solutions for students, some publishers are moving towards the production of E-textbooks. However, E-textbooks do not pose a perfect solution for students because there is no used market for them, and they cannot be resold.

If you would like to listen to the full story, visit:
http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2014/10/03/353300404/episode-573-why-textbook-prices-keep-climbing

Florida Senate Rejects House Bill on Textbook Affordability

Posted June 19th, 2014 in News by Alexander

House Bill 355—previously passed by the Florida House of Representatives—was struck down on May 2nd by the Florida Senate’s Education Committee. The bill promised to reduce textbook prices for Florida colleges and universities and would have held the State Board of Education and the Board of Governors accountable for the adoption of textbook instructional materials, affordability policies, procedures, and guidelines. In addition, it aimed to create a task force to investigate textbook affordability issues.

The reason for the bill’s rejection is uncertain; however, students have been commenting on the issue and voicing their concerns on social networks. Several comments include information and tips that would help fellow students afford textbooks for the upcoming fall semester.

  • “Don’t tell me you’ll give me $2 for a book in perfect condition, bought new, that was used once.”
  • “I understand that there is content professors want that is not in the books, but they could provide that information separate in a PowerPoint or PDF file.”
  • “I would love if my textbooks DIDN’T cost more than a credit hour.”

If you would like to read the full article with quotes from students, visit:
http://www.centralfloridafuture.com/news/view.php/706951/Florida-Senate-shoots-down-textbook-affo

Student PIRGs Releases Policy Guide on Textbook Affodability Issues

Posted June 6th, 2014 in News by Alexander

The Student Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) website recently published a new policy guide on textbook affordability issues. Their intention is to provide leaders and decision-making authorities – from institutions to state legislators – with informed policies concerning open access textbooks and other approaches for affordable textbooks. The guide provides textbook affordability background information, open access textbook policy solutions, a list of key audiences and suggestions to address their concerns, a checklist of components necessary to create good policies, and sample policies and programs.

If you would like to view the policy guide , please visit:
http://uspirg.org/sites/pirg/files/reports/POLICY%20GUIDE%20-%20Affordable%20Textbooks.pdf

USF Professor’s Open Access Experience

Posted May 29th, 2014 in Faculty, stories by Alexander

Dr. Anol Bhattacherjee is an Information Systems professor at the University of South Florida who understands the burden of expensive textbooks. After listening to his students’ complaints about the high cost of textbooks, he decided to create his own open access textbook, “Social Science Research: Principles, Methods, and Practices.” However, saving students money was not his only goal.

Dr. Bhattacherjee believes scientific access should not be restricted by paywalls or limited accessibility. He also feels that existing research textbooks focus only on research methods and do not address the full process of social science research, such as the beginning, where a creative purpose for the research is required, or the end, where one actually tries to get published. In addition, he wanted to avoid the dense language of a professional paper and streamline the main topics to create an easily accessible and compact reference. His solution was to write his own textbook and provide it online for free or at a low cost in print.

The open access textbook book evolved from Dr. Bhattacherjee’s doctorate-level course handouts and notes from over a decade of teaching at USF. In the beginning, he experimented with a first edition, gathering feedback from his graduate students. After reviewing his students’ suggestions, he modified the text into a second edition and released it publicly online. Initially, it was hosted on a server at the University of Georgia and announced on a listserv for MIS research, but the popularity of the textbook quickly took on a global perspective across six continents. Dr. Bhattacherjee was surprised by its surging popularity, expecting the textbook to be downloaded only a few thousand times; it was eventually hosted online by Scholar Commons, a service of the USF Tampa Library to showcase research and creative works. According to the data from Scholar Commons, his textbook has been downloaded over 70,000 times from their website in the last two years.

Currently, Dr. Bhattacherjee uses the textbook in his courses at USF, but many other universities throughout the world from the USA to Australia to China to South Africa have also adopted the textbook. The popularity of his text was due in part to the fact that he wrote about conducting social science research in a general way, not specific to his field, and therefore it held a broad appeal for many disciplines. It was originally written in English, but it has been translated into several other languages, including Arabic, Chinese, and Korean, with more planned for the future.

  • The textbook was published under a Creative Commons license and is freely available on the Scholar Commons website.
  • If you would like a printed copy of the textbook, it is available from Amazon for $8.99.

“For me, the value is that students find it useful.” – Dr. Bhattacherjee

Law Professors Petition for Students’ Right to Sell Used Textbooks

Posted May 19th, 2014 in News by Alexander

After receiving an online petition from law professors with over 300 signatures, Wolters Kluwer Aspen Law, a leading legal publisher, released a statement assuring them its new casebook-publishing program would not threaten students’ ability to buy and sell used textbooks.

The professors feared the new casebook-publishing program, called Casebook Connect, would impede students’ rights to sell and buy used textbooks. The program’s initial introduction indicated some of the most popular casebooks’ new editions would include a print copy and a lifetime access to a digital version. However, at the end of the semester, students would be required to return the printed copy back to the publisher. The professors argued this would force students to buy new casebooks every semester and eliminate the used-book market.

After 329 signatures, Aspen released a response with more information about the program and relieved many of the petitioners’ concerns. They said students would have the option to purchase individual casebooks, new or used, or buy through Casebook Connect program.

Vikram Savkar, vice president and general manager of Wolters Kluwer Legal Education, said in an interview that it was a case of miscommunication. He assured the professors it was always the company’s intention to let students choose whether or not to buy the casebooks through the program. In addition, Mr. Savkar indicated they are working hard to find a fair price for the content in response to the professors’ feedback.

If you would like to read the full story, visit:
http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/law-professors-defend-students-right-to-sell-used-textbooks/52523?cid=wc&utm_source=wc&utm_medium=en