College Bookstores

A friend of mine went to price her textbooks for the semester the other day. The campus bookstore wanted almost $400. Instead, she got online and went to Amazon. She got her text books for $130.

I got a bit of vicarious pleasure out of that.

I kept a few of my textbooks. I also saved some money by checking some books out of the library for Philosophy classes. The latter trick didn’t last too long as the professors had a fetish for making xeroxed compilation booklets via Kinkos. It saved the students a little bit of money, but it also kind of sucked. No resale value and you didn’t even have a nice Philosophy book for your bookshelf at the end of the semester. You only had a wad of photocopy paper bound together with a squiggly plastic strip.

I have many memories of spending as much money on textbooks as my friend almost did. I would be happy at the end of the semester to sell the books back for enough cash to buy a nice dinner and a good book to read over the break.

In general, I resent books being so overpriced. The printing press changed the world by making the transmission of ideas cheap. That is the whole point of books. I feel a bit better by remembering a thought a boss’s boss once told me. “You aren’t paying for the paper, you are paying for the information”. Meh, maybe. What about the author who has been dead for a century, but a paperback copy of his book costs the same as a meal at a restaurant?

College textbooks are the ultimate racket. I remember new editions of textbooks being required for a class when a mountain of existing copies of that book already existed cheaply. The content of the books would be nearly, if not 100% identical. The content would be on different page numbers and with slightly different headings so a new syllabus wouldn’t work with an old textbook.

I have no doubt college textbooks will become even worse of a racket with the dawn of eReaders on the horizon. Students will continue to pay $400 a semester, but they will not be buying a book they can keep, sell, loan or read again. They will be renting the information, which will expire and disappear from their eReader at the end of the semester. If that student wants to look up that information someday, s/he will have to pay for the privilege. Then those poor students will hear people like me picking up one of my old paper books, flipping through the book and taunting them by saying such things as “Look, no charge! I read it 3 times in a row! No charge! Big Brother doesn’t even know I looked at the book again!”

For now, in the interim between the past and that even worse future I am happy thinking that the smarter students like my friend can use the internet, at least partially, to outflank the college textbook racket to save serious drachmas.

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6 thoughts on “College Bookstores

  1. I def. empathize with your concern about ebooks being erased from devices… I was given an ereader recently, and you had to register it with the company before you could even access any features. It’s convenient, i’ll agree, but I like paper books much better.

  2. Yes, data about your reading choices will forever be in an easy and quickly accessible database for any government or organization who wants to know.

    People who are into eReaders are intelligent people…..they are readers. So, I find it very frustrating that they are obtuse to the many potential environmental, economic and political horrors these devices may bring.

    Someone waved a shiny gadget in front of their faces and that is all they see.

  3. Textbook costs are quite absurd. $400 would have actually pleased me some semesters!

    For philosophy/logic courses, I just took my laptop in to class. It would save me from having to lug around even more books and classics are available on websites. In order to follow the pages and quotes referenced by the professor, I would just do CTRL+F and type the words mentioned and find my place faster than those with the paper copies.

    I’ve never used an eReader, but that is ridiculous that you don’t get to keep the book indefinitely! At least in my case, technology was a blessing and not a curse.:-)

  4. I think the curse of eReaders has yet to come. It is still a cutting edge technology. When they get to be common place to the point of replacing books flat out that is when I think we will see the ugly side of information control.

    Search *is* one nice thing computers have that books do not :).

    Over $400? What were you studying? 🙂

  5. I quite like paper books, anyway! Although, if eReaders didn’t have those strange stipulations, I can definitely see the benefit in compact and portable information! I wonder if that will someday be heavily misused as you suggested. It’s an interesting thought!

    I studied politics. My studies taught me that publishers like to add a new intro for a new edition every semester and make you pay for the same information again!
    (P.s. I’m not notified by email of follow-up comments for some reason, hence my delay in replying!)

  6. To the left of the submit button for a comment is a check box. If you check it, you can be emailed when someone replies to a comment in a thread. Let me know if it does not work for you.

    Professors and publishers in the sciences did the same thing. They would republish the same text book, but with minor changes so students couldn’t get by with used and cheaper editions.

    Wow politics. I remember that profs for those kinds of courses would assign huge volumes of reading to do. Hundreds of pages a week.

    Another pet peeve of mine from college. Unrealistic amounts of homework. IMHO, doing that just makes students take all of the reading less seriously. Better to decide what you really want the students to read and assign them just that, perhaps offering them some extra credit for additional, optional readings.

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