Scottsdale Community College instructor Bonnie Gray is trying to swing a deal with Allyn & Bacon, the publisher of the $90 textbook/CD package she uses to teach her Psychology 101 class.
She would like her students to be able to purchase just the CD, which unlocks not only online tutorials but the entire text of the book. Doing so would save students about $60.
The cost of textbooks is a perennial issue for college students already scrambling to find money for other expenses. And textbook costs can seem especially pricey at community colleges, where students expect to get a break on spending for higher education.
The Maricopa Community College District, which charges $51 per credit hour, estimates students will need to spend $80 to $120 per class on books. The district includes Scottsdale, Mesa, Chandler-Gilbert, Rio Salado and Paradise Valley community colleges in the East Valley.
"I remember for an entire semester, I paid $9 for my books," said John Niebling, dean of instruction at Scottsdale Community College. "Now it’s not unusual for people to pay $109 for a book."
Yolanda Rodriguez, a sophomore at Mesa Community College, said she considers the prices for textbooks unfair, "especially when you need to take a class for a certain degree. You have no choice."
The higher education market is the fastest-growing segment of the publishing industry, and netted nearly $4 billion in 2002, according to the American Association of Publishers.
College texts tend to cost more than their mass-market counterparts, and textbook inflation has outpaced the overall publishing industry’s at the wholesale level since 1997, said Laura Nakoneczny, spokeswoman for the National Association of College Stores.
She said textbook costs are a matter of the economy of scale. "Textbooks are not produced in mass quantities," she said. "With some books, you may put out 200 books instead of millions. It’s very much a specialty market."
One source of the higher inflation rate, she said, is the increased frequency with which authors and publishers come out with new editions.
Judith Platt, director of communications and public relations for the American Association of Publishers, said the updates are made necessary by the pace of change in technology, politics, society and everything else covered by college curriculums.
"Imagine just three years ago today, looking at a photograph of New York, and then looking at it now," she said. "For better or worse, the world is changing faster than you can possibly imagine."