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College Store Offers Explanation of Textbook Prices

The dramatic rise in textbook prices is being addressed by officials from the College Store, who explain the factors involved in pricing and outline the ways that a sympathetic administration and faculty are working together to alleviate the problem:

As students and parents come into the College Store to purchase course materials, there often is a moment of silence when they realize the selling price of their materials. This “sticker shock” unfortunately is justified. Several studies sponsored by the National Association of College Stores and other interest groups all have determined the same thing: The price of textbooks has risen dramatically in each of the past eight years, often at rates higher than inflation. Since 1996, prices have tripled on many titles.

The selling prices of textbooks are based on the publishers’ costs. As publishers raise the cost, so rises the selling price. Publishers offer several reasons for the higher cost of textbooks: Limited markets, the cost of raw materials, technology demands from authors and users, distribution costs, and changing markets are just a few. There are several ongoing initiatives exploring textbook prices, not only with industry associations, but also with local, state and national governments. The following links to organizations and articles offer further information on many of the initiatives under way:

The College Store at Penn College is a self-funded, nonprofit, institutionally owned bookstore. Its textbook selling prices (the prices paid by students) are based on what the store pays to acquire the books, either from a publisher (for new books) or a wholesaler or student (for used books); plus a margin, which is the portion of the sales price necessary to cover the store’s operating costs.

Penn College’s margins are routinely below industry averages, which means a lower cost to students. As at most institutions, textbook-title decisions at Penn College are made by the faculty and academic schools not by College Store employees. Faculty members determine the best materials for their classes, and the College Store buys the materials to resell to students. Faculty and the College Store not only sympathize with students about the high price of textbooks, we also work together toward helping students save money.

The College Store has a very successful used-textbook program. Used textbooks offer students an immediate 25-percent savings from a new title. The College Store purchases many of its used titles directly from students during the end-of-semester buyback period. It also purchases used copies from several national wholesalers. Used textbooks continue to be the best way for students to save money on course materials.

The College Store’s textbook department works with faculty on the selling format of required titles. Sometimes, the extra materials that are offered only with new copies are not needed for classes or utilized by the students. If the faculty member determines that the extra materials will not be beneficial to his/her students, the College Store will not only be able to find used copies, but also will be able to purchase the title from students during buyback if the book will be required the following semester. The store works closely with faculty on campus to ensure that a student has the needed materials at the best price, without paying for extra materials that are not needed.

Of course, to get the most out of textbooks, students need to utilize them to their fullest. Instructors have spent much time planning their lessons around the chosen textbooks. It is to students’ benefit to use textbooks not only in the beginning of classes but throughout the semester. Academic success depends on how much time students are willing to commit to it, and the textbooks they purchase can help them acquire the education for which they’re paying.

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