University begins linking textbook prices to course listings

Daily Illini
July 26, 2010
By: Shawn Adderly

Textbook costs are rising every year for college students and lawmakers are taking notice.

As of July 1, provisions that have gone into effect in the Higher Education Opportunity Act signed into law by former President George W. Bush in 2008, will help drive down textbook costs, said U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin on a conference call to reporters last Wednesday.

“It is very clear to me that textbook costs have gotten out of control,” Durbin said.

Durbin was the original sponsor of the three provisions.

One of the provisions requires publishers to disclose textbook prices to professors that are evaluating publisher-provided copies for use in their course.

In the other provisions, textbook supplement material such as software or workbooks is now required to be unbundled from the textbook. Colleges are also now required to include the prices of textbooks and ISBNs on their course listing website.

The University has complied with the act by providing a link from the course listings website to the Illini Union Bookstore website, where all course materials and their prices are listed, said Ed Slazinik, director of the Illini Union, who oversees all the operations of the Union and the Illini Union Bookstore.

Since the Union Bookstore is the University’s official bookstore, its prices are currently the only ones provided by the University.

Fred Gottheil, professor of economics and author of multiple economics textbooks, said he often assigns textbooks without checking the prices.

“I don’t pick a text on the basis of price, but on content and readability,” he said.

Gottheil said he assumes the prices are competitive from one textbook publisher to the next.

Thomas Overbye, professor of electrical and computer engineering and co-author of a power systems analysis textbook, said he does not mind students having access to the cost of textbook prices, but cautioned students on deciding whether they were going to take a class based on the price of a textbook.

“I think if any students make a decision whether to take a technical class or not based on the cost of a textbook, that is a bad decision,” he said.

While Overbye said he sympathizes with students over the cost of textbooks, he said while working in industry, he found his textbooks were enormously valuable as a reference, adding that “good textbooks are worth their weight in goal.”

Sarah Peters, junior in LAS, said she has spent about $300 each semester on textbooks.

“I don’t look at or consider the textbook prices when I decide what classes I’m going to take,” Peters said.

Peters said she makes good use of her textbooks by taking notes while reading and using them as references later.

Emmanuel Saldana, junior in Engineering, said he believes textbooks are prohibitively expensive.

“Textbooks are overpriced, and when you sell them back to the bookstore they buy them at a significantly lower price,” Saldana said. “Only to sell them again near the same price you paid for them in the first place.”

Saldana added that he also does not like the fact that new editions of a textbook might be introduced every year, even though most of the content remains the same.

Many students are under the impression that professors write books to make money off students; however many professors disagree.

Overbye said the author of a textbook for a senior-level technical class could potentially make approximately $6,000 to $8,000 a year.

“People think you are making a lot of money writing textbooks,” he said. “If you tell that to people involved in consulting that make upwards of $150 an hour, they will tell you it doesn’t make sense to write a textbook.”

Curtis Perry, professor of English and department head, said he has made about $300 off books he has written, which are mostly geared toward a scholarly audience.

“If you write a textbook that is adopted by a state system, then conceivably you could make a lot of money,” he said.

He said the primary reason professors write books is to further their academic career and contribute information to a certain subject area.