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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Textbook prices: an alternate arrangement

By Justin Jaynes

The Chronicle’s front-page story, (“Bookstore blues,” Jan. 25) analyzed costs and benefits of buying books from the U Bookstore versus Beat the Bookstore. The Chronicle’s View, (“The Bookstore Diaries,” Jan. 25) issued a plea to the U Bookstore to lower its prices.

Neither article addressed the issue of why textbook prices are so high to begin with. If the bookstore is truly only marking new books up by 4.1 percent and the majority of the cost comes from the publisher, then why are publishers charging so much?

Though the cost of textbook production is high, the price is not the most significant factor. The cycle of books being bought and resold is inflating costs to a painful level for students to experience.

A textbook publisher will invest tremendous time and effort into producing quality texts with a high degree of accuracy, strong visual appeal, readability and suitability to classroom application. Teams of authors, artists, designers, editors, and researchers will spend huge amounts of time producing each book. This results in high production costs despite relatively low printing costs.

Textbook publishers know that students usually intend to resell their books to others who will need the texts in future semesters. The publishers are therefore unable to sell many copies of a text in the years following its first publication. This will force them to recuperate costs and make profit within the first few years with high purchase prices. To offset the reduced volume of sales, they raise the purchase price.

In Great Britain, copyright laws are enforced to the extent that consumers do not sell textbooks back to the bookstores. Students must buy textbooks new and then keep them. This arrangement increases the volume of books sold. The greater sales volume allows publishers to keep their prices lower.

Last year, I took a class on Shakespeare from a professor who understood this textbook cycle problem. He chose to order our texts from a publisher in England.The cost of our 500-plus-page book was less than $25. But we could not sell back the books at the end of the semester. I, like many people, prefer to keep the books when I can afford to do so.

I cannot usually afford to keep American-published books. When reselling the texts, my loss usually exceeds $25 per book. I hate losing the book-and the money.

Copyright laws in the United States allow a publisher to stipulate that a book not be resold (see United States Code, Title 17, Section 106, No. 3). The exclusive right of transfer of ownership remains theirs.

For whatever reason, American publishers do not hold back this right from students, thus forcing high prices to recuperate costs. Students, whose finances are tight, may be forced to resell the expensive books, keeping the prices high.

It is possible that U.S. publishers prefer this arrangement, as it pays off their investments faster. Unfortunately, we are the ones who bear the inflated cost for their benefit.

Would students be willing to stop reselling their books if publishers lowered the price? If the practice could ever be arranged, then it would be for the benefit of students.

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