Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Board investigates textbook prices after study finds them too high

The Illinois Board of Higher Education is investigating the amount of money students spend on college textbooks following a study from a California advocacy group that found textbooks to be unreasonably expensive. According to the Chicago Tribune, Gov. Rod Blagojevich called for the investigation last Sunday.

The Tribune also cited a study that showed the average University of California student spends almost $900 per year on textbooks.

Pat McGowan, an employee at the University Book Store, estimates that the average University of Wisconsin student spends several hundred dollars less.


“I know that [the University Book Store’s] markup is much lower than the vast majority of schools, and that students here spend significantly less,” he said. “But textbooks are still expensive.”

McGowan said typically, UW students who sell back textbooks at the end of a semester will get 50 percent of a new book’s price and two-thirds of a used book’s price.

Mikaela DeGroot, spokeswoman for the WISPIRG Book Swap, said how often new editions of textbooks are necessary depends partially on the subject matter.

“We focus a lot on the math departments, where the subject matter hasn’t changed in years and yet publishers keep coming out with new editions,” DeGroot said.

She added that even in fields where new developments are common, professors could add articles in their readers to cover these developments while using older textbooks instead of constantly re-issuing textbooks.

UW professor of women’s health Nancy Worcester, who wrote one of the textbooks her course requires, agreed.

“It’s different with different fields,” she said, adding while there are frequently new developments in women’s health, professors do hand out articles to supplement textbook material.

According to DeGroot, WISPIRG is currently working with publishing company Thompson Learning.

“Over 500 professors have signed a request asking Thompson not to print so many new editions,” DeGroot said. “If it comes to it and they do not listen to the request, we will be asking professors not to sign on to the new textbooks.”

She noted some students and professors complain that publishers pack textbooks with costly extras that increase book prices.

“They bundle up the textbooks with CD-ROMS and workbooks that most professors say they rarely, if ever, have students use,” she said.

DeGroot remains optimistic, however, that changes for the better are on the way.

“People all across the country are working together on [lowering textbook costs for students],” she said, adding that Associated Students of Madison set up a commission to examine the issue.

Worcester said in her experience, it was students who pushed for new editions of textbooks.

“As someone who tries to keep textbooks up to date, I can tell you it’s very hard,” she said. “It’s students who end up pushing for new editions. I would not do it as often otherwise — it’s very time-consuming.”

Worcester believes people today are accustomed to using websites and tend to be very critical of a textbook if it is not up to date. “There is a lot of pressure on (UW’s) campus for new editions,” she said.

She added authors do not have much control over the price of textbooks.

“The publishing world is pretty fragile,” she said, noting publishers have to sell a huge number of textbooks to break even. “It’s hard to keep the prices low in this economic climate. The publishing companies can’t afford to take risks.”

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