Editorial: Out the publishers, down the prices

Textbooks are expensive not only because of the bookstores they are sold in, but also because of the conniving publishers hoping to extract every possible dollar.

The high cost of textbooks is a unifying complaint among students, and until recently, the exact circumstances that led to high costs had not been widely understood. Are the teachers plugging themselves or a friend? Is it the school bookstore? The authors?

But, thanks to a recent study, we now know the primary reason: the publishers.

It’s not exactly something to file in the “interesting revelations” cabinet: Publishers hike up book prices like a sleazy car salesman, “bundling” textbooks with unnecessary extras to up the cost. A study called “Ripoff 101,” conducted by the California Public Interest group, found that in some cases these bundles increase the cost of textbooks by 65 percent.

The promises of new technologies could make things easier for all of us, but the publishing companies still create a problem. Online versions exist, but they do little to decrease the cost due to copyright laws. Surprisingly the effect can be negative, as publishers may force students to subscribe to the content only for a certain number of days, and in some instances, make it impossible to print the text.

But we also see a changing of the guard in this battle, specifically innovative students who are learning to use the Internet to curtail high textbook costs.

Such is the case with Northeastern’s own Jason Turgeon, a senior environmental geology major who has started his own movement. His site, textbookrevolution.com, makes it easy for students to find textbooks that are available for no cost, making deals with authors willing to share their property for free.

Innovation from students like Turgeon is combatting this age-old problem, but unfortunately, it is not enough.

It’s also not surprising that professors are often left in the dark about how much their students spend. What is surprising – and a welcome sign that relief is on the way – is legislation that curtails this problem. This is the case in Connecticut, where a bill has been passed requiring publishers to release the price of their textbooks to faculty members so professors can take cost into account when choosing course materials.

Students need legislation from federal, state and student governments, to finally strike a blow to this problem. Certain websites and student movements have started, but they need help. Students need legislation, and a push from those in power, to curtail the actions of the publishers.

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