Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Books Are Making Me Burn

Tomorrow I take my only final, then I get two weeks off until the summer semester starts. I went to the bookstore last night to get the required texts for the two classes I'm registered for, and you know what that means.

That's right, folks, it's time for my Once-A-Semester Rant Against High Textbook Prices!!

Apoplectic rage does not even begin to describe how I feel when I have to pay these exorbitant prices for books. My Weather Studies text and workbook was $120 - the workbook changes every year, the textbook does not, however the only way to buy the workbook is bundled with the text, so you can't resell the textbook. (Okay, you can if you don't use the workbook and resell them directly to another student, but NOT if, like me, you're taking it during the summer, because the new workbook/textbook Ripoff Combo goes on sale for the fall semester.) The textbook ends up being completely worthless without the workbook. I used the Ocean Studies set a couple of years ago, and it was the same - at the end of the semester I THREW IT AWAY. These books are produced by the American Meteorological Society, a group that studies, among other things, the causes of global warming. You can read their global warming statement here. What you cannot read there is how many trees they kill to produce their wasteful text, the text which taught me that deforestation is one of the major causes of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. So greedy textbook publishers are causing global warming.

But if you think the Weather Studies Ripoff Combo was the greatest source of outrage, think again. That's the book I actually bought. The one I left on the shelf was the text for my Business Communications class - a regular looking textbook, no value-added CD, no special workbook, no access code for their super-exclusive website, no pages made of solid gold. Which is why I was completely aghast at the price: $152. One hundred and fifty two dollars for A BOOK. If this were Hogwarts I was attending, and the book was actually alive and tried to bite me, then I would consider paying $152 for a book. But this book only bites figuratively.

A student in my class (where I began this rant, last night) said that the reason the book costs so much is that the class is an online class, so the book has to do all of the teaching. I was polite enough not to rip this theory to shreds in front of her, but since she's not here to defend herself, it's fair game. That is a ridiculous idea. What she's basically saying is that this text alone is going to teach me, and the instruction is worth the $152. If that is the case, why then am I also paying tuition, some of which is paying for the professor's salary, which he clearly doesn't need if a $152 textbook can teach me without his help. Alternatively, the student was saying that the $152 has better content than the Business Communications text that the non-online class buys (a bargain at only $64). But if books were sold based on content, why on earth is a Business Communications text worth more than, say, the Bible?? Which I can get for free in any hotel in the country! Could learning the proper way to format an email really be more valuable than the life-affirming truths taught by God Himself? The real fact of the matter is that God isn't around to collect royalties on his Word, which you can't say about the textbook author.

The proof that textbooks are priced above the market value for them is the thriving resale market. In fact, most of the students in my class last night had the same sentiment: Buy it online, used, and you won't have to pay $152. Of course I'm not going to pay full retail for the book - only really stupid or really desperate people do that. Or really lazy, I suppose. Or really spending their parents money, not their own. Okay, so lots of people probably buy the text brand-new, but that doesn't stop those wily book publishers from trying to foil us. They release new editions every few years, in the name of providing up-to-date research and information. But the last time I checked, introductory Algebra isn't experiencing a new wave of innovation. Neither is Shakespeare, which some fellow students paid a huge pile of money for a book of collected works last semester, only to be told in class that the text of all the plays are online.

Why isn't there more outrage at textbook prices? Why do students (and their parents, ostensibly) accept this fleecing every semester with nary a peep? Why hasn't there been a revolution yet? Why aren't there protests in front of school bookstores across the country every fall and spring? What happened to the student protests of yesteryear - are we so collectively wealthy that we can be asked to pay an additional 25% of our already exorbitant tuition and we won't even flinch? Am I the only voice of reason left on campus? I'M FED UP AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE!!! Join with me, Utah Valley University students! Let's organize a sit-in at the bookstore, we can chain ourselves together and sing revolutionary songs and Kum-Ba-Ya and chant about the capitalist pigs and their greed! Then we can have an over-priced textbook burning on the quad! We can go on a reading strike! No More Teachers, No More Books! No More Publishers, They're Dirty Crooks!

Except. That I need this class to graduate. And it's more convenient to take it online. And our vacation to Disney World would be in serious jeopardy if I was handcuffed to the wolverine statue on campus. So I'll buy the stupid book online and resent the crap out of the entire semester. But you better believe that I'll use my new-found Business Communication skills to write a particularly well-worded letter to President Obama, asking him to do something about greedy textbook publishers who are single-handedly destroying our environment. That letter will be $152 worth of genius and persuasion. And possibly, it will bite.


Anonymous said...

After reading your post, I'm all riled up too! That is way too flippin' much to pay for a book! That's like going to Taco Bell and getting charged $50 for a product off the dollar menu!


rachel said...

I love the way you write, Emily. You have the best way of explaining or describing things. I was very upset to pay $100 for a biology book that I wasn't going to be able to resell - and that was (ahem) 18 years ago. I can't imagine how much that book costs now! It is all ridiculous.