Ridiculous Textbooks

Textbooks (from Flickr)
Textbooks (from Flickr)

As a current University student, I am quite frustrated with the textbooks that are required for us to buy. I know I’m not the only student that dreads looking at their book list at the start of a semester. This semester I was very pleased to discover that only 3 out of my five classes required text books. This moment of joy and relief was short lived when I realized that those 3 text books I needed totalled over $500. I thought perhaps I could get away without buying them, that maybe they weren’t actually required for the class. However, my profs insist that they are necessary for the course, despite having no assigned readings, questions or any other use of the text book. Basically, they are simply serving as added weight in my back pack every morning when I trek to the university. I only take them, with the unrealistic hope that we might crack it open that day.  This just doesn’t seem right.

The most sickening thing about purchasing text books is that it is almost impossible to find used textbooks. You wouldn’t think this would be a difficult task when so many others have have been forced to buy them in previous semesters. I’m sure there are tonnes of used text books sitting on shelves somewhere, but they were refused in book store buybacks because they had either “met their quota” or there was a newer edition being released. One of my professors, who also shares this frustration of textbooks told us that if we can find a used copy of our text, to buy it. The textbook company who published this particular math textbook came out with a new version this year. What was the difference between the two books? A shinier cover and a few true and false questions in every chapter. This cover and these questions have prevented me from being able to find a used textbook since the bookstore has refused to buyback any of the older versions, likely feeling that they are now obsolete. This is especially frustrating being a student on student loans with no income who also has to pay a ridiculous amount for rent and food.

Initially this semester, I thought I would try to beat the system. Whenever I needed to do a reading, work through some assigned questions, or look something up I was going to go find the textbook in the library. It was a foolproof idea, until I found out the library doesn’t have them. How does the library of the university not carry these books? I don’t get it. It seems like there is no way to win as a student.  Has anyone figured out a way to get around this?

I have a friend, who is also a student, who bought a “required” textbook last semester. He did not open it once because it his professor’s notes were more than sufficient to get through the class. He went to the buyback table at the beginning of this semester. His textbook was still in its plastic wrapping, with the disks that came with it still in the package. The textbook initially had cost him $180. They offered to buy it back for $30. I’m not even going to say anything about that, I’m sure you can see what’s wrong with the picture.

So how does a student get around this? I do not know. If you know, please share! I wish I did, but for now I’m stuck paying somewhere between $500 – $1000 a semester on books that may never get opened. Professors usually don’t help, they tell us we need them for the class. Maybe they get some sort of kickback if their class uses the textbooks? It doesn’t make sense to me. Maybe the new tablet technology that is emerging right now could be the savior students have been long awaiting.

iPad (from Flickr)
iPad (from Flickr)

Prior to the release of the Apple iPad, it was rumored that Apple was in talks with McGraw-Hill and Hachette discussing the possibility of getting text books in e-book form to be used on the new Apple iPad. You can read more about that here.  Since the launch of the iPad, McGraw-Hill’s CEO, Harold McGraw, told CNBC that the company will be making its textbooks available in e-book form (I found that out here).  I’m quite excited about this, and I hope more publishers will follow.  However, there are still some problems I foresee.  How much cheaper will it be? I know we’re not paying for the physical paper, binding, etc. but will they still charge almost the same amount.  And what about those students who like highlighting or writing in little notes as they go, will that be possible?  Will they expire after the semester so you can’t resell them?  I guess the more I think about it, the more I don’t like the idea. I can see them potentially being an even bigger rip off than they are right now.

Once again, I apologize for the rant, it seems like all I ever do on here is rant.  Is this frustration shared at other universities or in other schools?

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Comments 10
  1. Your frustration is shared by students and parents alike! I am excited about the new technologies that seem to be emerging in regards to textbooks (and other book as well). You ask some good questions. I am sure with the prospect of losing all of the revenue of the hardbound textbooks, publishers will make us pay fees for newer “versions”. I don’t know that technology will necessarily make textbooks cheaper, but I am hopeful that they will be interactive and exciting to use. As ereaders, the Ipad, etc. get better and better our whole reading experience should change. Hopefully this will pull in students who struggle-give them many avenues for getting their information. Picturing etextbooks that would allow us to link to video, music, relevant information at the moment you are studying it allows for deeper understanding and a better chance of the information “sticking”. It makes going in to education right now very exciting; over the course of a 21st century teaching career there will be amazing changes and the chance for a much better understanding of how people learn and how to differentiate/modify/accommodate different learning styles. At the very least, if we’re paying exorbitant prices for etextbooks we’re getting something for it!

  2. I feel your pain! It only gets worse as you go for a Master’s and Doctorate degree. I would hope Apple has enough power to revolutionize textbooks on the iPad. I have found that looking on Barnes & Noble’s website or Amazon’s website nets cheaper textbooks. I’m a member of MyPoints.com too so every purchase I make online gives me points. Once you get a certain amount of points you can get gift cards or gas cards. It’s really nice! 🙂

  3. I know how ya feel, I’d like to say that the majority of my textbooks serve more of a purpose than just a paper weight, but it’s just not so. Not to take away from the bookstore, or to advocate using other vendors, but I have had great luck buying my books used online from http://www.abebooks.com. They are a company that sells and buys used textbooks for affordable prices which include the shipping! It’s worth a look!

    1. John (@shoewee)also sent me this link, http://is.gd/7H6z1 , on Twitter about how text books are one of America’s Biggest Ripoffs.

      Sarah, I really do hope etextbooks would have some interactive content. The technology is definitely there to embed videos or interactive quizzes with realtime results. I doubt this will happen while I’m still a student, but I hope that things are heading in that direction. An interactive textbook with some good media content would be much more enjoyable to sit down and go through. Many concepts, especially in classes like Physics which rely so much on diagrams could be greatly enhanced if good animations were made available with the textbook.

      John, I should look into a points-rewards program for the amount I have to spend on textbooks. Maybe swiping my cards wouldn’t hurt so much if I did that. I have also checked out sites like Amazon, but for most books it ends up costing the same amount when you include shipping.

      Dean, once again thanks for the great link. I had never considered the idea of textbook torrents, but I could see that being very popular with students if they knew about them. I also like the idea of “open textbooks”. It is too bad so many professors haven’t seen the potential of an option like this, or using a wiki as a textbook. Most of my classes only use 1/4 of the textbook and the other 3/4 never gets touched.

      Bradie, I didn’t know about abebooks. I will be exploring it at the beginning of next semester and hopefully it could help me save a few bucks. Thanks!

  4. I can vouch for Abe Books too. While the books are used, you can usually find books for penny’s on the dollar if they have it. You can get normal novels for only a dollar or so. Sometimes they charge more to ship the book than for the book itself.

  5. John and Bradie, I just looked up a textbook I was supposed to buy this semester (I didn’t need to, so I didn’t) which was supposed to cost me about $180. It’s on Abe Books for $1.43. Unbelievable.

  6. Told ya! It’s amazing. 2 things to watch for. Make sure it’s the same edition your professor wants and be careful where it’s shipping from. You’ll get hit with international fees and crap like that if you get it from other countries.

  7. John, thanks for the tips, I’l be sure to watch for all the extra hidden fees and charges if I do purchase books there in the future.

    Sarah, I think the augmented reality potential could enhance students’ learning like never seen before. I remember in my high school days, labs often struggled to illustrate important concepts. However, accurate augmented reality could cut down on that lab time and be easier to do for all concepts that students are to learn.

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