California State University (CSU) has recently announced that it will partner with the publisher Cengage Learning to provide cheaper textbooks for students. However, the agreement is different from other partnerships between publishers and universities. The CSU-Cengage deal involves CSU initiating an ad campaign across their campuses for Cengage Learning in the form of memos to faculty, notices in student newspapers, and posters at bookstore counters. In exchange, Cengage Learning will rent its eTextbooks for 60 percent off the hard-copy price, reducing the current price for rentals by 10 percent.

CSU and Cengage Learning both acknowledge benefits from the deal. Currently, Cengage Learning sells approximately a quarter million textbooks to CSU students each year. The publisher can expand its growing eTextbook market, while professors can exercise the increasing features of eTextbooks and students will receive a higher discount. As an example of the savings, students who pay $166.49 for “Human Biology, 9th Edition” in paperback could rent the eTextbook version for $66.60. The current rate of the rental eTextbook is $78.49. Student access to the rented eTextbook will expire after 180 days, but students can print out pages for themselves to keep.

The CSU-Cengage agreement raises questions, however, regarding whether a university should promote one publisher’s books over the others. Others are displeased that open access textbooks are being ignored in favor of publisher deals. Faculty leaders at CSU are attempting assuage those concerns by saying that no one is forcing the professors to use the Cengage textbooks and that it is just another way to help ease the price burden on students.

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