Textbooks, Who Needs Them?

The opinions expressed in this article do not represent the views of The Excelsior.

By Essowe Tchalim

Published: October 21, 2014

Having worked as an editorial intern in the textbook department of W. W. Norton & Company, I have seen and taken part in the arduous process of textbook development. It is grueling and expensive in both money and energy. With this in mind, I feel a measure of guilt in saying that I do not think textbooks are worth buying.

College textbooks are unwise purchases because their academic gains are not worth their cost. According to Publishing Perspectives writer Edward Nawotka, “On average, U.S. students spend $655 per year on required textbooks.” This is made worse by how infrequently the student will use these textbooks. “75 percent of students…are discouraged by the simple fact that quite often, only a few chapters from the books are needed for study,” according to a survey conducted by Bookboon.com. Having purchased textbooks just to use for a less than a third of their content, I sympathize with that sentiment.

The college textbook prices, according to a Government Accountability Office survey, have increased by 82 percent between 2002 and 2013. In light of this outrageous surge in costs, students are resorting to whatever means necessary to alleviate the strain on their wallets. As the Bookboon survey discusses, this includes “copying the needed chapters, finding online alternatives, or, in the case of 60 percent of those surveyed, buying their textbooks second hand.” Yet those are not the only alternatives students have adapted to.

Textbook piracy, one of the major ways with which students are curtailing textbook expenses, is on the rise. Book Industry Study Group stated that “alternative acquisition behaviors, from scanned copies to illegal downloads to the use of pirated websites, continue to increase in frequency.”

International Business Times states that in the recent years, websites dedicated to uploading exclusively textbooks for free public download have surfaced. Among them are BookFi.org, LibGen.org, and Textbook Nova.

It is hardly a surprise why textbook privacy has become such a trend. Why spend hundreds of dollars on a course material you only might use more than a few times when you can acquire it at no cost? Some may consider it, especially in this harsh economic climate, the more fiscally responsible decision. “I probably saved a couple thousand over the years,” a New York University student told Vocativ concerning illegal textbook acquisition.

When seen from the perspective of the publishing companies, the distaste for alternate, less legal methods of attaining textbook material is more than understandable; they are losing their means of making money. That said, when a single textbook costs the amount that a student working part-time minimum wage makes in a week, can you really reproach him or her for obtaining that book at no costs? The publishing companies probably still would, but I, a student in a similar position, would not.