Last Wednesday, the controversy surrounding the high prices of
textbooks on this campus was again in the spotlight. Approximately
one hundred students gathered in front of University Bookstore to
present findings about textbook prices, new editions, how exactly
professors use these new editions and if in fact they are
useful.

Almost every student on this campus can attest that at some
point in his or her career, when attempting to sell back a certain
book, the bookstore would not take the book back because “a new
edition is coming out.”

This is a recurring trend that has become more frustrating in
recent years. A WisPIRG (Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group)
survey released last week gauged the level of professor support for
the frequent release of new textbook editions. The survey
demonstrated 65 percent of professors do not use the additional
information in fresh editions of previously used textbooks. New
information professors say they do not find helpful is delivered
mainly in the form of CD-ROMs, workbooks or additional “sidebars”
packaged with new textbooks. The survey also found more than 50
percent of professors believe new editions with these added
“features” are “rarely” or “never” justified.

We applaud the survey and WisPIRG for bringing to light another
reason to fight for lower book prices. Applying pressure to
publishing companies to avoid creating unnecessary new editions, if
these editions do not significantly benefit students in the
classroom, is a step in the right direction.

Buying books online is another step in the right direction,
along with organizing books swaps, but why not take the initiative
to overhaul the system entirely? Why not implement a book rental
system similar to those that other schools have employed
successfully?

We recognize that it would be far from feasible to create a
comprehensive rental system for such an enormous campus; however, a
rental system on a smaller scale would be beneficial for UW
students.

Applying the old axiom, we would speculate that 80 percent of
students on this campus take 20 percent of the classes offered at
UW. Meaning, four out of five students all take many of the same
introductory level classes such as Chemistry 103, Political Science
104 and Economics 101, to name just a few of the more popular
freshman “feeder” courses.

Why not create a system in which students enrolled in large,
frequently offered classes have the opportunity to rent books.

This board has previously stated that a large problem with
selling back books is many students do not have an interest in
keeping books from many of these introductory level classes, yet
have a hard time parting with a $150 book for $25. The simple
solution would be to offer students another option: simply rent the
book for a semester.

Last week, Associated Students of Madison Co-Chair of the
Legislative Affairs Committee Faris Rashid told this newspaper that
a committee of students, faculty and staff has been set up to
explore the issue of high book costs. Vice Chancellor for Student
Affairs Paul Barrows, who was involved in the creation of the
committee, also told the Badger Herald, “anything that the
university can do to defray or [lower] the costs of textbooks to
students is worth looking into.”

A book rental system for popular and large classes is worthy of
exploration. It is easy to dismiss the concept as far-fetched and
unrealistic, but at one point in time so was online registration
for classes. This is an issue students are willing to get behind
and could make a significant difference in their college experience
at UW and the health of their pocketbooks.