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


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.


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


It’s just not right…

It happens year after year, semester after semester. The time for us college students to shell out loads of money on 10 various textbooks for our 5 classes. The price of textbooks seems to be following the path of our already skyrocketing student loan debt. The price of textbooks is not only and economical and political issue, but an ethical one as well. How can colleges and universities require students to buy textbooks that they can’t afford? And what exactly are these textbook companies and publishers doing to ensure that their textbooks stay in demand and their prices stay so high?


After some investigating, I discovered some of the tactics and schemes (that I believe to be unethical) the companies use to continue to profit off of us broke college kids.

In an article exploring the dirty tricks of the trade, David Miller, founder of SlugBooks, discusses two examples. One tactic textbook companies use is creating “custom edition” textbooks. These editions are only slightly different than the generic edition and offered at larger universities. By requiring students to buy these “custom” textbooks, Universities and publishers are able to prevent the sale and trade of used textbooks. The other tactic that Miller mentions is the newer technology of online textbook components. These online platforms are mostly used for homework submission. Miller explains the reasoning behind this practice, “If you want to buy the software license without the book, it’s $80, and if you buy it with the book, it’s $100. So they’re basically producing the software for nothing, then using it to require students to buy a brand new book.”

I have personally experienced the agony of paying for one of these online textbook components. For my Spanish class, the textbook and MySpanishLab online software were both required. When my friend told me she had taken the same Spanish course and would let me use her textbook, I thought “lucky me!”

Then on the first day of class I realized I wasn’t so fortunate…

$80 later, I felt as if I hadn’t saved anything!

I’m sure you can understand and share my frustration with throwing out extra money for unnecessary textbooks. I do not think it is ethical for these companies to continue to engage in these unfair practices. As students, our voices need to be heard. Our opinions matter! If people continue to expose these tricks, maybe we will see some lower prices in the near future!




Hi! I’m a Senior at the University of Maryland majoring in Communication. I can’t wait to see what is in store for me post graduation! I have lived in Maryland my entire life and I love it, but I am ready to get out and explore. I couldn’t survive without coffee, laughter, and the beach.


So why am I advocating for an end to expensive textbooks? Because after 8 semesters, I’m sick of paying for them! Majority of the textbooks that are “required” for class are only opened once or twice throughout the entire semester and it just isn’t right. As students, we already pay an arm and a leg for tuition so it would be nice to be able to save some money on textbooks. Join our cause and support an end to overpriced textbooks!!