The Assn. of American Publishers, which represents the nation's college textbook industry, says prices have held steady in recent years and disputes the notion that book costs are too high. It points to research showing that typical students at four-year colleges paid $644 for textbooks last year, far less than the College Board estimates and only about one-third of what students spent on entertainment.
"The real outrage should be directed at the suggestion that textbooks are a legitimate place to scrimp," Patricia Schroeder, a former Colorado congresswoman who is the association's president, wrote in a recent newspaper commentary.
In addition, the association says publishers revise texts about every four years and often include CDs and workbooks to update content and take advantage of new educational technologies, not to boost profits.
But Humboldt State's Christensen, a 24-year-old from Lake Forest in Orange County, doesn't buy those arguments. Christensen, who relies on a scholarship, grants, loans and a 20-hour-a-week job to pay for his education, has honed his skills at saving. This term he bought a used book from another student for $5 instead of getting it new for $22.
Sometimes Christensen will buy books at the university bookstore only to return them if he spots cheaper copies online.
One possible side effect of high textbook costs is that students eagerly sell their books, even at cut-rate prices, rather than build a personal library. "You just want to get rid of it," said Juan Pablo Moncayo, the student government president at Cal State Fresno.
"I see my parents and their culture of keeping books and appreciating a book for the value of having a library and whatnot. With my generation, that's completely gone."
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of college students didn't buy all required textbooks.
bought at least one textbook online (main reason: price).
photocopied books or other materials sold by publishers.
resold a textbook online.
bought all of their textbooks online.
Source: National Assn. of College Stores, fall 2005 survey of more than 16,000 U.S. college students