Examining textbook prices

As Wilfrid Laurier University students begin to flock to the Bookstore to buy their required textbooks and course packages, there have always been concerns about the amount of money they spend on those academic materials. Since textbook prices have increased over the years, students and faculty have begun to question if these books can be too expensive for students.

“There’s been big increases in probably the last five to ten years or so. If you’re doing a comparison from year to year, then yes, it’s becoming increasingly expensive for students,” explained Mike Zybala, manager: academic materials at the WLU Bookstore.

While prices in general have been higher than previous years, Zybala noted that this year’s prices for most books appear to be somewhat to similar to last year’s.
“Maybe they [publishers] are starting to realize that pricing can be a little bit prohibitive for students,” he added.

However, as a result of the constantly increasing prices, many students have opted not to buy from the Bookstore, and chose to either buy used or cheaper versions from another student, online book companies or local stores.
Increasing textbook prices is not a unique situation to Laurier and every university faces the same issue with publishers because they typically determine the prices.

“Unfortunately at our end, we sell at publisher’s list price which is kind of standard in the industry. So with any other college or university, they are using the publisher’s list price,” continued Zybala.

Zybala noted that sometimes textbooks can be a bit more expensive than other books because of the volume at which they are printed; some textbooks are only meant for a certain amount of students. He also said that the number of sales for textbooks are considerably smaller than that of a popular novel or a text that is widely read.

Are they too expensive?

Sometimes students — in particular business and science students — believe that they spend more money than they have to when it comes to buying academics texts. Science and business textbooks tend to be more expensive because of the content, colour and visuals that go into them, therefore requiring more effort on the behalf the authors and publishers.

“I think the price of textbooks is relative,” said Deborah MacLatchy, vice president: academic and provost at WLU.

“I think if the instructor has really tied the textbook to the learning the student is doing in class, then the textbook is a good learning tool. If the textbook isn’t really tied to the learning of the class then they [students] are probably think they are overpriced.”

Three third-year students, Ivan Vacacela, Gaurav Kapoor and Julian Goellnicht, believe that they do spend a lot on textbooks, as all of them stated they spend an average $600 per semester on textbooks and course packages.

Goellnicht, a kinesiology student, said that more materials are required for his classes, which typically results in higher prices. “It’s almost like buying two classes worth of books for one class,” he said, noting that labs for science classes require their own material.

“Essentially you’re paying 200 bucks to read 200 pages,” said Vacacela, a computer science and psychology student.

New editions of books, which are sometimes required for certain courses, have been problematic for students who want to sell old textbooks or buy used ones.
“For a business class they changed two or three pages in the book and then they make it a new edition then you have to buy it [the new textbook],” explained Kapoor, a business student at WLU. Kapoor also mentioned that he’s had difficulty selling textbooks in the past because it’s no longer the required edition.

MacLatchy, on the topic of reccurring release of new editions on textbooks, said, “I think for the students who want to sell their books, they’re probably quite disappointed in that.”

Transitioning to digital materials

As technology continues to be more advanced in the classroom and with academic materials, the bookstore and faculty have begun to look at e-books and digital readers — something that should be typically cheaper than print.

Zybala noted that the bookstore has begun to just sell online “access codes” for e-books and is looking towards doing business with e-readers such as Kobo.

According to Zybala, prices for e-books and electronic academic materials are still only 60-70 per cent of the price of the hard copy version, but as electronic materials become more accessible, the price will be lower.

Many students, along with Vacacela, Kapoor and Goellnicht, still like use to paper textbooks just because of the convenience and their natural study habits.
“I think it’s going to be a while before we’re going to actually be done with textbooks,” continued McLatchy. “You can do things that you can’t do with digital, and that can enhance the student’s learning.”

Textbook prices look like they will remain the same for the coming years, but it an still issue to watch. Laurier history professor Amy Milne-Smith said that it should still be something worth looking at and students should be mindful of textbook prices.

“I’m not quite sure what the solution is,” said Milne-Smith.

“If you can still go onto Amazon and buy something for two dollars, and then go to the Bookstore and pay 24 dollars, I’m not sure if that systems is working well as it should.”