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Opinion: Don't let the market trick you into buying textbooks

Exhaust every single option available before buying a book

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'Students should not pay for a book if it is not used frequently in class.' Illustration published on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019. 

It would cost $467 to pay for my books this semester. I average about $500 in books every semester, but thankfully my tribe is able to help me take care of most of the costs. However, not every student is going to have tribal assistance. 

When students have to worry about tuition costs, housing costs and affording food, books should be last on the list for concerns. Obviously, there are rare exceptions when books are required to complete homework but other than that students can be successful through alternative mediums. 

This is especially true given how overpriced they can be. Students should not pay for a book if it is not used frequently in class. 

Sam Thiele, a junior studying political science, said he uses "maybe only one book" each semester. According to results from a poll conducted by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, nearly 65% of surveyed students said they didn't purchase a textbook because it was too expensive. This shows how students are able to recognize that books aren't always worth it. 

“I would be interested to see what’s in (professors') contracts (and) if they’re required to assign at least one book a semester," Thiele said. 

Some professors at ASU, such as those for ECN 211 and ECN 212, have been previously required by the economics department to have students purchase a specific eTextbook.

In the past, professors have been reprimanded for not requiring their designated books, such as the instance in California State University, Fullerton where a professor was reprimanded for refusing to use a $180 linear algebra textbook in his class.

This is important because the requirement is coming from people working in a department who may or may not have any relation with the students attending class, rather than the professor who works directly with the students. 

“I know I’ve made it through plenty of classes without books," Thiele said.

There are other important price increases that deserve the attention that tuition increases receive. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the price of textbooks increased by 88% between 2006 and 2016. This shows how as textbooks are getting more expensive, students have to be more careful when choosing what books to buy. 

Publishers are getting a majority of the revenue coming from the books. These same publishers also encourage a quick turnaround for new editions, as the average revision for a textbook is 3.9 years. Even professors and faculty admit that the changes between editions are often very minimal

In order to respond to a market that is constantly increasing prices and turnarounds for new editions, students should be much more cautious in deciding what books they buy. Obviously there are classes where books are frequently used and completely justified investments, but for every class, students need to look for alternatives before immediately purchasing a book.

If books are only going to be used a few times throughout the semester, then there are a plethora of ways to access the book without purchasing it. The ASU Library is also a great place to borrow books for a short period of time. They may not have every textbook, but occasionally there are provided textbooks from instructors for classes.

If a book is going to be used frequently in class, the other alternatives don't work and there is no way around purchasing the book, consider renting or buying the ebook before resorting to the more expensive hard copy.

“You can find almost anything you want online in (a) PDF form," Thiele said. “(And) I know there's lots and lots of books in the library that people can use."

Ultimately, the cost of books is inflated, and it’s a market that often takes advantage of incoming students who may not know any better. Think before you ever buy a book for a college class so you don't let the textbook cartel win.

Reach the columnist at or follow @Kellenmoore23 on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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