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Escalating Costs of Student Textbooks

November 01, 2003

Re "Shop Smart, Students," editorial, Oct. 28: This month, the California Public Interest Research Group student chapters at UCLA and Berkeley conducted a survey of students that found that students spent an average of $350 on textbooks for the fall 2003 quarter, with the most expensive books costing up to $125. However, I take issue with your editorial's conclusion, which implies that the burden lies on students, not textbook companies, to lower book costs.

There is increasingly compelling evidence that textbook companies practice "planned obsolescence" with their books, replacing perfectly usable textbook editions with expensive new editions that have no significant content differences except minor changes in page numbering and chapter order. However, the new editions are different enough that the cheaper, used editions quickly become obsolete as bookstores refuse to buy back the used book and faculty members are forced to produce new syllabuses to reflect the changes in page numbers. The CALPIRG student chapters are working with faculty members to investigate the extent of this practice. We plan to release the results of our research in late January.

David Rosenfeld

CALPIRG Campus Programs

Director, Los Angeles

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If you are going to inform students about the best way to obtain textbooks, at least put a little effort into it. Rather than comparing textbook prices in the U.S. and the United Kingdom, you could suggest one of the many comprehensive Web sites that compare prices for textbooks across thousands of vendors. Also, rather than advocating university regulations or state laws that create lending programs, one only needs to look at the vast library resources at our state schools and city libraries. (Perhaps a better proposal would be to allow students cross-library privileges without a fee.)

You might also suggest that more schools take UCLA's lead in creating an online forum that encourages the free exchange of vast ideas (including the buying and selling of used textbooks). You could also applaud many social science and humanities professors who take the time to create course readers (selections of readings compiled together) that allow students to read the relevant course material without purchasing 10 different books (though we still pay for copying and copyright fees).

Armen Adzhemyan

Los Angeles

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