Most college students look forward to getting back to campus after a long deserved break, until it is time to buy textbooks. As we watch our savings from break disappear in a matter of minutes, many of us become frustrated. Many have questioned why these books are so expensive. With a basic understanding of the current market, the answer is inefficiency.
This system is frustrating and there is little hope in sight. We, as college students, are only subjects of the money machine. Many joyous students celebrate when we hear the “next thing” that is going to decrease cost, but we are typically left disappointed with the solutions.
We must unfortunately accept that new textbooks will remain expensive. The “big three”– Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt– have control of the market, leaving competitors in the dust. This all makes perfect economic sense; these companies have been able to build such economies of scale that few can even begin to infiltrate the market.
Their building of excellent internet tools, superior writers, and aggressive sales teams has created a three player oligopoly. This oligopoly gives so much market power to the corporations, already in a market for a good of nearly inelastic demand, that they can charge extreme prices that make economic sense.
One change that can make a difference comes from our book store. Unfortunately, many classes we elect require the textbooks to be consistently updated. While some professors are fine with old editions, the Millersville book store pushes professors to require the class to use new editions.
The incentive for them to do so is of course large financially, but is it really in the best interests of their sole customers? We must not forget that Student Services Inc. holds both tax exempt status and a mission to benefit Millersville University Students.
Personally, I have used countless old editions in courses and have faced few issues. The unfortunate truth, that many book companies simply change little more than examples or practice problems, is disheartening. They typically grant professors with the new edition and its corresponding tools while in the process making the prior edition unusable for most textbook assignments.
Although many of us have heard of e-textbooks, anyone who has used them quickly finds they are currently inferior. Although quite convenient, these books typically hold no residual value and have limited durations of use. E-textbooks are the most cost effective for the corporation, by eliminating the need for shipping, printing, raw materials, and distribution costs, which eliminate a fair amount of expenses. Unfortunately, the majority of these e-books are accessible only through subjacent methods.
The corporations typically provide the e-textbook on their site, instead of a corporation like Apple’s or Amazon’s respective stores, and fail to meet the superiority. Unfortunately, the “big three” have so much control that they can continue to deliver an inefficient and inferior online product.
When attempting to read an e-textbook on a tablet or phone from one of the “big three’s” sites, much is left to be desired. The interfaces are not only sluggish, but limited and frustrating. Many times e-textbooks are inaccessible without Internet connection and, as stated before, are more of a loan than ownership.
Unfortunately for students, the textbook market will most likely be inefficient for years to come. Even with attempts from corporations like Apple and Amazon to produce e-textbooks in a more useful, valued, and user friendly way, e-textbooks will not become plentiful until the “big three” and these tech companies can strike business deals, which quite possibly may never happen.