Cutting the Cost of Textbooks, Sort Of

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Many people—college officials, students, and consumer advocates—have bemoaned the high price of college textbooks. Apparently the average college student now spends almost $900 on textbooks in an academic year. Apparently Ohio is trying to do something about that. From an article by Jason Lea in Northern Ohio’s News-Herald comes the information that:

State Representatives Matt Lundy, D-Elyria, and Matt Patten, D-Strongsville, introduced the Textbook Affordability Act in March. The bill has not even been assigned to a committee for discussion, but it has started conversations. The legislation suggests several ways to control textbook costs:

Publishers would need to offer e-book versions of their textbooks that are used at public state and community colleges. This includes e-books that can be used by those with physical handicaps. According to the bill, it would be the responsibility of the chancellor for the Ohio Board of Regents to negotiate for the electronic books.

The chancellor would also start a bulk-purchasing plan for the most commonly used textbooks.

Other schools have tried the electronic textbook plan and offering textbooks for rent.

While the bulk-purchasing plan is perhaps somewhat novel (wait, don’t bookstores already buy books in bulk?) the efforts at reform in Ohio doesn’t seem to go very far at all to address the structural nature of the problem, in which publishers and many college bookstores make gigantic profits off textbooks due to a lack to competition and heavy markups.

The trouble is that so often the proposed solution to overpriced textbooks (their price has apparently increased 10 percent a year since 2006, according to the article) has to do with coming up with alternatives to textbooks. Books are good. Books are, in fact, the foundation of colleges. What we need is a real way to drive costs down.[Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer