Applied Mechanics News

Thursday, March 02, 2006

College students spend billions on textbooks

Textbook prices nearly trippled from 1986 to 2004, according to a recent report of the United States Government Accountability Office. Much of the soaring prices is due to the “enhanced offerings,” all the CDs and instructional supplements. College students now spend more than five billion dollars a year on textbooks, while states spend another four billion on books for elementary and high-school students. People in the open-source movement have talked of producing free textbooks, the way they currently produce free encyclopedias and free software. But, until the revolution arrives, college students must bear the burden of the high cost of reading, remarked James Surowiecki in the New Yorker magazine.

5 Comments:

  • As pointed in the original article in New Yorker, in recent years, more and more students tend to purchase their text books from sellers outside US, or used copies from individual sellers inside US through internet trading platforms.
    For example: "Principles of Condensed Matter Physics" by P. M. Chaikin, T. C. Lubensky is priced $65 at amazon.com, while the same book can be bought from an india website for about $15 including shipping! So no wonder even the author (Chaikin) himself suggests students to buy a cheaper copy. Experience I heard from various people shows that the price of the textbooks published in Asia is about 1/3 or even lower than that of the same textbooks published in US.
    Internet provides other options for us to exchange resources. Variety of online trading platforms allow individuals to sell and buy used books online. For example, www.half.com (now owned by ebay.com) allows you to sell your book with a nominal trading charge, while the buyer can choose from a large pool of copies. Such platforms also provide possible ways to purchase rare copy or out-of-print books in a reasonable price, which is hardly possible through traditional traders. A portal website for used books and new books, such as www.abebooks.com, allows you to search any book from most of the online traders and compare prices.
    Of course, while more people can get books in a lower price on average, in long run, the publishers will continue increasing prices on new releases to run their business. Therefore, "The real losers in this game are those who buy textbooks and hold on to them: graduate students, bookworms, and lazy people", as in the New Yorker article.

    By Blogger Teng Li, at 3/03/2006 7:11 AM  

  • My experience has bee consistent with Teng Li's. Most of my students who have either an asian connection or are aware of the cheaper rates there tend not to buy locally. A student that I know recently came back from China with the entire collection of Landau-Lifshitz series, Kittel's book on solid state physics, Kadanoff's book on statistical mechanics--all for $ 60!
    I am not quite sure of the legal aspect of this however. Some of these books have a statement claiming that it is "illegal to sell outside India/China". But...given the domestic prices, this seems like a good deal for the students.

    By Blogger Pradeep Sharma, at 3/05/2006 6:24 AM  

  • I`m at the lower end of the study of Mechanics because my college in Glasgow usually prepares the students for moving to the University of Strathclyde but a super book to set the scene is
    "Mechanics of Engineering materials" by P P Benham and R J Crawford. (I checked and amazon.com have it for $57US)
    That is amazing that books can be found so cheaply in Asia.
    Good wishes from Scotland!

    By Blogger ianinjesi, at 3/07/2006 1:03 AM  

  • How embarrassing! The buyers in amazon rate that book so badly. The parts I have used have had one or two little errors but generally it`s good.
    Anyway, I am sympathetic about the cost of book for students but they can re-sell if they take care of the books.

    By Blogger ianinjesi, at 3/07/2006 9:35 AM  

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