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Author Topic: RANT: College textbooks - Why are they so *@(!ing expensive?  (Read 2074 times)
Josh
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« on: June 11, 2011, 08:11:30 PM »

As a undergrad student pursuing a degree in Computer Networking, with follow up work in Systems Engineering for my graduate masters, I have often questioned why textbooks are so expensive. Is it the amount of research which goes into a textbook writing, is it that someone who writes a book, typically a professor, feels that their PhD or Masters warrants them being compensated at a certain dollar-level, for their studies?

Why do these books have to cost so much? When my introduction to computing book (I could not test out of this course which is why I had to take it) back in 2005 cost me $79.95 USD, I immediately began to question why.

Any insights?
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steeladept
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« Reply #1 on: June 11, 2011, 10:53:17 PM »

My guess - and this is purely a guess - is it is because the volume sold is so low.  To cover the cost of production plus a reasonable income for the author's time, it is very high.  And because they are often written by the instructors themselves (or their friends), they can guarantee a certain amount of sales.  On top of that, the school bookstore puts a larger markup on the books above and beyond the typical markup.  I know this is a fact, because I used to go to the downtown Barnes & Noble to buy the exact same book our campus bookstore sold (which was also a Barnes & Noble store).  The price difference was typically about $5-$20.  Lastly, especially with technical books, the data becomes outdated so quickly, the lifespan of the book is relatively small.  Therefore, you can not hit a critical mass to lower the cost as easily.

One solution I used as of my sophomore year in undergrad, is www.addall.com.  If it is published by a normal publisher (i.e. not internally published); they will tell you where the cheapest source is after shipping.  It doesn't make it that much cheaper in some cases, but it is almost always significantly cheaper than the school bookstore.  Moreover, if you have several books to buy, you can often save even more by consolidating the order to one vendor and save on shipping too.
« Last Edit: June 11, 2011, 10:55:03 PM by steeladept » Logged
JavaJones
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« Reply #2 on: June 11, 2011, 10:59:12 PM »

I don't have any deep insights, but as far as I know the people that write them are *not* the ones getting large compensation in many/most cases. Often times, especially with college text books, they are "written" - or at least heavily edited - by a team of people. I reckon it's the publishing house that probably makes a good deal of the money, but that may just be my paranoia talking. Wink

- Oshyan
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steeladept
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« Reply #3 on: June 11, 2011, 11:48:50 PM »

I didn't mean to imply any large sum of monies, but something significant enough to warrant their time.  The bulk of the monies does, indeed, go to the publishers.  I know from experience in the printing industry that printing itself is expensive.  Probably 50% of the publisher's take goes to printing, the rest divided between advertising and profits.  For a typical 200 page math book going for say $80, it is probably something like $40 to the publisher, $5 for the distributor, $25 for the reseller, and $10 for the author(s).  (Numbers VERY hypothetical).  Of the $40, the book probably costs between $20 - $25 in materials and printing costs.  Most of that in the paper and binding costs.  For the reseller, it is broken up into more advertising and stocking costs (and of course profits all along the way).  I don't think anywhere on that route that anyone is truly GOUGING the end user, but there certainly is a lot of padded profits all along the way (typically 30-50% on most durable goods - don't know what it is for books specifically though).
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Deozaan
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« Reply #4 on: June 11, 2011, 11:54:11 PM »

It's simple economics.

The books are required, so they can price it as high as they want.
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Carol Haynes
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« Reply #5 on: June 12, 2011, 05:54:56 AM »

Its simple economics - the market is tiny, and in the case of technology the books are defunct in a year or two limiting sales further.

What this doesn't explain is why eBooks are pretty much the same price when there are no printing overheads.

Maybe authors should simply start publishing their own books in electronic form only, charge a reasonable price and make a lot more money.
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TaoPhoenix
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« Reply #6 on: June 12, 2011, 03:05:15 PM »


Print texts are a scam.

POD tech is just 2-3 years away, but they want you to believe it still costs an arm and a leg to print these things.

And the thread is being generous at $80, there are some books going for $250.
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capitalH
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« Reply #7 on: June 13, 2011, 01:09:36 AM »

In South Africa, I found that pre-grad books were relatively cheap (About R100-R300 ~ $14-$42 at current FX), however postgrad books where the market is terribly small the books easily jumped to R1500-R3000. Luckily though if you are the only student (like I was), you just borrow the library copy permanently (and return it for a day when your two renewals expires).
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JavaJones
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« Reply #8 on: June 13, 2011, 03:23:14 PM »

There's no way printing costs for a 200 page book are $20-$25. You can get print-on-demand stuff of high quality for less than that (yes, even hard bound). Even taking into account the "relatively low" volume the cost of printing is probably a minority of the total price.

- Oshyan
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