Textbook prices up 40 percent in last 5 years

By Gus Bode

Local bookstore managers insist they strive to give students the best value for their textbook dollar, but some students feel like they get a raw deal.

All agree textbook prices are rising steadily – and one student is trying to do something about it.

Nathan Hopkins, a student at John A. Logan College in Carterville, is circulating a petition to urge the college administration to adopt a textbook rental system.


Three books cost him $450 this semester, Hopkins said.

The National Association of College Stores reported the price of textbooks has increased 40 percent since 1998. Textbooks cost the average U.S. college student about $807 during the 2002-2003 academic year, according to the College Board.

Hopkins said if the college administration won’t go to a rental system, he wants them to bring in another store to compete with 710 Bookstore, which operates the bookstore on the John A. Logan campus.

Saluki Bookstore Manager Peter Doddema said his store no longer handles textbooks for John A. Logan College because of the difficulty of getting accurate information about books adopted by the instructors.

Doddema said he thinks Hopkins’ petition is “a brilliant idea.”

Larry Peterson, John A. Logan College’s Vice President for Administration, said the board of trustees has been concerned about the cost of textbooks for some time, but expressed reservations about adopting a rental system.

“It would be a significant commitment of dollars for the school,” Peterson said. The University Bookstore is one of 708 bookstores in the United States and Canada operated by the Follett Higher Education Group. Follett Vice President Cliff Ewert said editorial and paper costs are higher for textbooks, which could account for increased prices.


“They’re printed on better paper,” Ewert said. “They have lots of color and graphics, and they have better bindings.”

However, the College Board reported college textbooks represent less than 6 percent of the total cost of attending a public 4-year institution.

“They’re insane,” Joshua Rhoades, junior in geology, said of textbook prices. “They’re way up there.”

Rhoades estimated he spent about $300 on his textbooks last year, and buys used books whenever possible. He keeps most of his books instead of selling them back, he said.

Every year, more students are buying their books online, but most still walk into the bookstore to make their purchases. About 3.5 percent report shopping for books at textbook websites, and even fewer shop at retail websites like Amazon.com, according to the NACS.

Research has begun for spring semester textbooks, said Randy Johnson, manager of 710 Bookstore. Johnson said the bookstore works closely with professors deciding which books to adopt for their courses, making them aware of new editions and keeping an eye out for used book options.

Publishers make no money from used books, so they encourage professors to use new editions, Johnson said.

Custom editions, or books edited specifically for use at a particular university, can be risky purchases. If the professor doesn’t use the edition the next semester, the book is worthless, Johnson said, and can’t be resold.

Wan Ra Pee, graduate student in financing, said she spent $250 on two books last semester. She added that textbooks are much cheaper in Bangkok, Thailand, where she grew up.

The American Association of Publishers reported that publishers do not mark up their books for the domestic market. Costs are spread over a greater number of purchasers, which keeps domestic prices down. The lower prices reflect the unique economies and market conditions in the countries where the books are sold.