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Textbooks (Flickr, CC BY 2.0)


Textbook prices are increasing steadily – so what should we do about it?

An interesting article in the Financial Times (Monday 16 May 2016) “Rising Price of Textbooks reaches a tipping point”, reveals the problem and one tutor’s response. US Census Bureau statistics show that textbook prices increased more than 800 per cent between 1978 and 2014, more than triple the cost of inflation. 

One angry author interviewed, Professor Kent Monroe, a “pricing expert” at the University of Illinois, complained that textbook prices have risen above the “acceptable price range”. What was his solution? He didn’t have one. Indeed, he complained about one of his students, an Indian, who bought two copies of the textbooks and sent one back to his father, with whom he shared his class notes. The indignant professor stated “His father was effectively taking my course in India. He was not just disrupting the book publisher; he was disrupting me as a tutor.”

Did I understand this correctly? The professor states his textbook price is too expensive – and then complains when someone buys two copies and shares their notes. It seems like an abdication of knowledge to study pricing as an academic and then simply complain when consumers take action when publishers are making excess profits. Textbook publishing is a monopoly market, after all.

I’m not sure in what way the Indian father was disrupting the academic. The professor could have suggested providing an online version of his course. Better still, he could have taken some action about the “acceptable price range” of his textbook and made it more accessible to those who could not follow his course in person.