Photo Credit: Joshua L. Jones
Everyone knows textbooks are expensive. They’re about 20 percent more expensive than they were a decade ago, according to Kathy Partridge, manager of Beat the Bookstore on Baxter Street. But with instructors slowly transitioning from print to digital-based course materials, how to get the most book for your buck isn’t the only issue students face.
The price surge has slowed, says Partridge, but the burden that textbooks have become hasn’t lessened. The stress of affording the required materials for a semester—typically averaging around $500 or more, depending on the major—is reportedly higher than the stress of paying for the actual classes. The Nebraska Book Co., which operates campus stores around the country and is one of the largest textbook distributors, conducted a survey in 2014 that found that 55 percent of students worried about textbook cost, while 50 percent worried about tuition.
Nearly half, at 49 percent, said that if a school offered free course materials they would choose that institution over another, preferred one. If choosing between a school with free books or one with amenities such as small class size, high graduation rate and world-renowned teachers, they would choose the school with free books.
And it’s not just books that students are supposed to buy. “It depends on the class. Sometimes we sell just the right amount, but there are a couple of classes where a handful of students will pick [the packets] up,” says Alex Cabe, an employee at Bel-Jean, the print and copy store that produces the required course packets designed by many professors. Cabe says they usually print about 85 percent of what the professor tells them is needed during the drop-add period, because some students will drop the class and others will never purchase their materials.
While the HOPE scholarship, funded by lottery ticket sales, once helped students with course material costs, in recent years that funding has been cut. An overwhelming 66 percent of students decide not to buy books for some courses due to the high cost, according to a study done by market research company Campbell Rinker.
The NBC survey reported that 47 percent of students intend to pirate their materials, and 25 percent plan to photocopy another student’s purchased materials, which often means that you aren’t getting the full materials, or just the parts you think you’ll need. Not only is this an illegal violation of copyright law, but it also means that publishers and authors aren’t getting paid for their work, a trend that is detrimental to the publishing world.
Those who do purchase books with the hope of selling them back are often taking a gamble. Partridge says that when buying back books, there are several factors to take into consideration: “Is it still a current edition? Is UGA going to use that again? Is there a new edition pending? And also condition.”
New editions come out so often in some cases that it’s hard to know if you’re going to get anything back at all. Many students will opt for an older edition to save money, but the lack of that new material can set them a few steps behind others in the class. “The trend is toward renting, and we are finding that it’s probably increased by 50 percent in the last three years,” Partridge says. “The downside is if you get it wet, if you don’t return it, you’re going to spend $100 anyway.”
Partridge says Beat the Bookstore is aware of the issues students face, and that the store tries to be ahead of the game for the students’ sake. “We do a lot of research. We call professors [to] ask them if they really need this.” Many bookstores are trying to meet students halfway, providing bundles of used instead of new books, along with the digital component. Professors often work with them to reduce the amount of materials needed because they have become more aware of their budget-conscious students, Partridge says.
The University System of Georgia is beginning to take steps toward more affordable textbooks by becoming the top university system to use Rice University’s OpenStax, according to the Athens Banner-Herald. OpenStax is a publishing house that develops and distributes free textbooks for select popular core college courses. Students can read or print books for free, or order physical copies for a fraction of the usual price.
The price problem isn’t limited to print materials, according to Partridge. “The last couple of years have been steady,” she says. “The difference is with the access codes, and that’s causing it to go up, because you have to buy this component.”
According to the National Association of College Stores, six out of 10 students use at least one digital component, but 40 percent prefer print, 26 percent want a mix of print and digital, and only 7 percent want completely digital course materials. Although convenience and price are pros in the digital category, students find print to be easier to read, flip through and study.
If students can get away with not purchasing online components at all, they will. Partridge says they’ve found that students don’t like digital books as much, and only one out of 100 will opt for it. “With kids in elementary schools, they’ll be used to it when they get to college,” he says, but for today’s students, it’s less than ideal, and the trade-off could hurt the quality of their education.
Flagpole conducted a survey on the social media site Reddit (reddit.com/r/uga) to ask how students learn—with new books, used, renting, sharing or other, more creative ways. Some key frustrations the student body faces at the beginning of each semester came out.
• “Firstly, I try to avoid them at all costs. Even if the professor says we have to have it, if there aren’t assignments coming out of it during the first few days of classes, I tend to wait a few weeks and judge for myself whether I’ll need it or not. Usually the lecture notes and other available materials are more than enough.”
• “If a class requires a book and it’s apparent that I’ll actually need it, my first attempt is to find a free PDF version.”
• “I have sold a few back, but it’s hardly worth it. I think I got eight dollars back for a $200 book once and pretty much gave up on that. Luckily, with my major, some books last me several semesters.”
• “If I need a book, I always rent from Chegg. Their customer service is amazing and extremely lenient. Need an extension? Call them and they’ll be happy to extend your rental period for free. Ended up returning a book in February or March that was due in December. That book was also ripped from its bindings and had slight water damage. Glued it back as best as I could but it was still so obvious it was ripped. Wasn’t charged a penny extra.”
• “If there is a code for an online aspect of the book (aka pay for the privilege to do your homework), then I usually buy access direct from the site. Most times I think this is cheaper anyway.”
• “If the class requires an online code then the book/code combo isn’t much more than just the code. Might as well get the book for a few extra bucks. If there’s nothing required then I don’t buy a thing.”