A federal law requiring college textbook publishers to provide details to faculty about textbook and textbook-bundle prices and descriptions of content changes takes effect today.
A provision of the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, the law was originally proposed as the College Textbook Affordability Act on March 20, 2007, by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., as a way to help college students manage the rising cost of textbooks. It requires textbook publishers “to include the price of textbooks and supplemental material when providing information to faculty, as well as a history of revisions,” according to Durbin’s originally proposed law. Publishers are also required to offer bundled versions of textbooks in an unbundled form.
Nsé Ufot, the government relations officer with the American Association of University Professors’ research department, said the major provisions of the law impose limitations on publishers and doubts whether it will lower the cost of textbooks.
“The AAUP is all for reducing the cost [of college], and with tuition going up, the last thing that students need is to pay higher prices for textbooks,” Ufot said.
Ufot, however, said she does not believe the unbundled texts will be cheaper for students because each text will be bought individually at separate prices, which offsets any initial savings.
According to a 2005 U.S. Government Accountability Office report to Congress, the price of college textbooks increased by 6 percent each year from 1986 to 2004, and prices nearly tripled over those years. The prices increased 240 percent while inflation rose 72 percent. Students spent $6 billion for new and used textbooks in 2004 nationwide. At four-year public universities, full-time students spent $898 on textbooks on average during the combined fall and spring semesters.
The report partially attributed the rise of prices to the bundling of textbooks with supplemental materials. According to the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics, the average amount that students spent on textbooks and supplies at UT was $800 in 2006-2007; $800 in 2007-2008; $818 in 2008-2009; and $860 in 2009-2010.
Student Monitor LLC, an independent consumer-research group that specializes in college student research, reported that students spent $659 on textbooks in 2009, down 7 percent from 2008 and less than the average amount spent in 2005. The data shows that the average amount students spent on textbooks is far lower than the rate of inflation, as students spent $613 in 2001-2002 and $644 in 2005-2006.
Websites such as cengagebrain.com and coursesmart.com allow customers to choose different packages, such as digital e-chapters, e-books, rentals and printed books.
J. Bruce Hildebrand, executive director of Higher Education for the Association of American Publishers, said the percentage of money college students spend on textbooks is small compared to tuition and room and board. Hildebrand said the AAP supported the legislation.
Integrative biology professor David Hillis said publishing companies already supply all the information that the law now requires them to supply.
“I can’t see this law having any effect whatsoever in driving down textbook prices in the sciences,” Hillis said. “If anything, it will increase the burden — and thus the costs — to publishers, which will drive textbook prices higher. Faculty and publishers are already doing everything they can to reduce textbook prices.”