“Custom” Textbooks – Robbing Students One Page At a Time

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Over the years, students have tried to cope with the continuous rising costs of college textbooks by finding new tricks to save money. These once innovative ideas include buying used textbooks, renting, or simply not buying the required texts at all. It seems as though we have hit a plateau and are out of newer and cheaper ideas. Well, the college textbook industry has taken notice and capitalized by creating a new way to combat these money saving tactics.

Enter, custom required textbooks.

What’s that you ask? The custom textbook industry is where textbook publishers work together with (mostly) major universities to create custom, school-specific editions of generic texts. And with the schools labeling these textbooks as “required,” students’ textbook money saving tricks become virtually extinct.

What is even worse about these new custom textbooks is that some academic departments share the profits from these textbooks with the publishing companies. Seems kind of immoral and unethical, doesn’t it?

In the article, As Textbooks Go ‘Custom,’ Students Pay, author, John Hechinger, cites an example from the University of Alabama:

“[The University] requires freshman composition students at its main campus to buy a $59.35 writing textbook titled “A Writer’s Reference,” by Diana Hacker. The spiral-bound book is nearly identical to the same “A Writer’s Reference” that goes for $30 in the used-book market and costs about $54 new. The only difference in the Alabama version: a 32-page section describing the school’s writing program — which is available for free on the university’s Web site. This version also has the University of Alabama’s name printed across the top of the front cover, and a notice on the back that reads: “This book may not be bought or sold used.”

The reasoning behind this “genius” idea? Textbook companies and college officials claim that these custom textbooks provide “needed resources for academic departments and more-useful materials for students.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t even have so called “materials” in my classes. I also think that our already hefty tuition and fees bill and regular high-priced textbooks pays for the departments’ resources.

I will admit, publishers were creative in coming up with this exclusive textbook program. Only requiring a custom textbook does stop the sale of used textbooks. And in some cases, students aren’t even allowed to resell these books even in AUTHORIZED campus bookstore buyback programs due to the resell prohibition. If the campus bookstore won’t even buy them back, then I am led to believe that this is truly an unethical practice simply screwing college students over.

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What will these textbook publishing companies come up with next?! And when will universities and professors be on our side??

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