Big bucks for books

By Michelle Gibbons

Tondalia Richardson, a sophomore early childhood development major, said she purchased eight books for five classes this semester, paying more than $300. The high cost of textbooks affects all of Illinois schools, averaging from $850 to $896 per year – a 186 percent increase in the past 20 years, according to a federal study.

The price of books is determined by publishers and wholesalers, said Don Turk, University Bookstore manager. He said the bookstore caries over 550 titles in paperback and hardcover, with an average price range, used and new, of $40 to $50 per book.

“Publishers have increased costs every year,” Turk said. “Sometimes they add a CD or an access code to the book, which makes it more expensive.”

Though the shipping costs of textbooks also has increased, this does not determine the price of textbooks, Turk said. Professors determine what books students need to purchase for the course. Each semester, the Village Commons Bookstore receives thousands of requests for textbooks from professors, said Lee Blankenship, owner and manager of the Village Commons Bookstore.

Professors also determine if inserts or packaged books should be required for the course, which greatly increases the cost of the book.

“I would tell professors if that information is truly important, then they are justified in requesting a package,” Blankenship said. “If it’s not, they are doing the students a disservice. Sometimes we will even call the professors and ask if they really need what’s in the packet. If they say ‘no,’ then we try to sell the used books.”

Publishers influence professors as to what books to purchase, which limits what the bookstore can sell, he said. Mathematical sciences professor Harvey Blau said he was surprised when he saw the sticker price of the book he wrote for his class.

Blau’s book, “Foundations of Plane Geometry,” released 2003, is sold at the VCB and University Bookstore for $96.

“If I had been aware when I signed a contract to publish the book, which was about six years ago, that the prices would inflate so much, I would have thought about insisting it came out in paperback.”

An average of $55 to $65 would be a reasonable price for the books in a hardbound edition, Blau said. Lower prices would not only benefit students, but more sales in the long-run would benefit publishers.

All royalties made from Blau’s book will be given back to the university, he said.

“Professors at Northern are not supposed to keep royalties from books that are sold to Northern students,” Blau said. “Professors here are on their honor to basically make a donation to the university, a faculty fund or a scholarship fund.”

Each semester for the past few years, the University Bookstore has issued a “Rate Your Books” survey to students. The survey is used to determine how much students use their textbooks, Turk said. The information is shown to professors to help them decide which books to purchase for the following semester.

Last year, approximately 1,100 students were surveyed. When CDs and access codes were included in books, the students seemed to use these less, Turk said. Course packets, however, seemed to have very high ratings.

This semester’s survey will be placed in bags after purchases and will be handed out by professors. Results from last year’s survey can be accessed online. The results of this semester’s survey will be announced after the end of the term.