Textbook Frenzy

The desire of an average Santa Monica College student for waiting in three lines to buy textbooks can only be coupled by the equal desire to pay hundreds of dollars for books they will use for three months and then never open again. Returning to SMC for a new semester has a different purpose for many, but one common denominator held by most Corsairs is the necessity to purchase textbooks for classes. Whether used or new, the cost of textbooks is always on the rise, with new editions hitting the shelves halfway through your current semester. USA Today reported that a 2005 report by the Government Accountability Office stated that college textbooks consist of nearly three quarters of tuition costs at the community college level. So then, what is the reasoning for putting such a high price tag on textbooks?

One can argue that the price of textbooks is simply a strategic move by textbook companies to maximize profits. While this may be true, the reasoning behind gaining these profits may change your opinion of textbook companies from price gougers to one more sympathetic. Since the birth of the used book market, textbook companies have taken an economic hit, since used book sales enable numerous students to use one product repeatedly as opposed to each purchasing a new textbook. To combat the situation, textbook companies must raise prices in order to keep a steady profit, and now textbook companies are trying new ways of limiting the used book market.

A typical scenario for any SMC student involves the student purchasing texts for the new semester only to sell them back to the bookstore at the end of said semester in attempts to collect money for the now purposeless books. There are three snags to this formula, however, which surely infuriate many who have attempted this. For one, the edition of a textbook is an old one, and the bookstores have no use for an old edition. Strike one. Well, what about a current chemistry textbook that was purchased only two months ago? Does it contain software to use with the text? Sorry, but once opened, textbooks with accompanying software cannot be sold. Strike two. Fine, then what about selling a political science loose-leaf text that was purchased recently? Unfortunately, loose-leaf texts also fall into the category of blacklisted textbooks that will not be bought back. Three strikes, you're out.

The three snags above are the methods in which textbook companies can force students to purchase new texts as well as limiting the influx of these texts into the used book market. While students may cry foul in regards to the textbook companies, one can't blame a company for trying to recoup profits, regardless of whether or not the product is related to one's education or not.

On the bright side, when trying to remedy the economic hit that textbooks cause, some of the best options available can be accessed right at home. Online bookstores such as Alibris and even Amazon offer extensive used book sections that can help students scrimp and save by taking tens of dollars off the cost of each textbook. Of course, looking up the required texts for a course ahead of time is recommended, as these online options tend to take up to two weeks for textbooks to be delivered from all parts of the country. Some teachers offer their classes in eBook form, having the text online or available for download at often half the price of the print counterpart.

Regardless, textbooks do not appear to be declining in price any time soon, so the best option may be to find the best deals possible on used texts. And for those with texts you cannot resell, at least you have a copy of last year's texts to act as a paperweights, table art, or kindling.