Toe-to-Toe Over Textbooks

Publishers and a student advocacy group trade charges.
February 2, 2005

Publishers and a student advocacy group issued dueling surveys and news releases Tuesday about whether rising textbook prices are taking advantage of students.

In "Ripoff 101: 2d Edition," the Higher Education Project of the State Public Interest Research Groups argues that textbook prices have risen at four times the rate of inflation for comparable goods in the last decade, that publishers are adding to many textbooks' costs by "bundling" them with unnecessary add-on materials like CD-ROMs, and that American students pay more than their international counterparts.

"This report shows that publishers use needless new editions and gimmicks to drive up the cost of textbooks. The losers in this scam are students who will have a harder time paying for college," Luke Swarthout, a Higher Education Associate with the State PIRGs, said in a news release about the report.

In response, the Association of American Publishers challenge the data and conclusions of the PIRG report. Specifically, a statement from the publishers' group refutes numbers in the PIRG report suggesting that most faculty members don't think students benefit from new editions of textbooks or from the electronic supplements that many publishers "bundle" with their textbooks.

The publishers' association cites a January survey by Zogby International in which 80 percent of professors said "it is important that the material in texts used for their courses be as current as possible."

The PIRG report contends that "76 percent of the faculty surveyed in our 2004 report said that they found new editions justified only 'half the time' or less."

The publishers' association also released a letter to a PIRG official in which the association's director, Patricia S. Schroeder, said that "the majority of your assertions are based on selective use of numbers and apples to oranges comparisons."


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