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Pricing a text by its brand new cover

September 30, 2007

Re "Bills aim at pricey college textbooks," Sept. 24

Finally, someone besides college students actually cares about the astronomical price of textbooks. I give praise to state Sen. Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro) and Assemblyman Jose Solorio (D-Santa Ana) for coming forth to put a stop to the prices. For fall semester, I spent more than $500 to purchase my textbooks, most of which were used. New editions cause students extreme frustration when attempting to sell them after the courses are over. Naturally, these new editions usually just have updated pictures or brighter covers.

Frances Zapanta

Los Angeles

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I'm afraid your article and the proposed legislation are a bit off the mark. Full disclosure of text pricing and contents is all good, but as an author of several university texts, I've met the "villain" in high textbook prices: It's used books. Economics tells the tale. A typical textbook with a four-year revision cycle had better make most of its money the first year it's out. After that, the market becomes flooded with used books, which students gobble up at slightly discounted prices. Publishers see their profits decimated, so they price their books to make the profit in that first year that would otherwise be spread over four. And revisions can be necessary. A French classics volume is timeless, but a 4-year-old molecular biology text can be useless. The solution? I can't think of an easy fix, but it surely won't come without understanding the market forces at play.

Alan J. Fridlund

Santa Barbara

The writer is an associate professor of psychology at UC Santa Barbara.

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The average textbook price of $102.44 leaves me dumbfounded. From 1987 to 1994, I taught a one-semester course on "engineering creativity" at a local university. I could not find a textbook that reflected my 35 years of experience in that field. So I wrote my own and self-published a 128-page paperback. Since then I've sold more than 3,000 copies at $10 (including postage within the U.S.). I did all of the artwork on a more recent 134-page paperback and had it printed. The printing cost, including shipping from the East Coast, for 1,650 copies was $1.70 a copy. Anyone who cannot write his own textbook, or at least have it written within his academic department, should not be teaching at the college level.

Tom Hanson

Newhall

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