The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Business

February 23, 2014

College textbook industry has diversified

High textbook costs have caused students to weigh options

A couple of students were pretty forthcoming when asked, “Did the cost of textbooks this semester cause you to decide not to buy them?”

Their bravado was immediate. One man on the Minnesota State University campus said, “I never buy a book until at least a couple of weeks in, when I can tell how much of my grade will depend on it.”

But when it came time to provide his name? “I can't do that. My professors might read this.”

MSU students weren't eager to divulge publicly that they don't always buy their required textbooks for courses. But, according to a national report released recently by Student Public Interest Research Groups, at least some of them don't.

Two-thirds of college students surveyed by the coalition of statewide student organizations said they hadn’t bought a required textbook at least once because it was too expensive.

Between 2002 and 2012, textbook prices shot up 82 percent, nearly three times the rate of inflation, in part because of quizzes and other online applications often included, according to the federal Government Accountability Office.

Many students, including MSU graduate student Jesse Marden, are responding to the inflated book costs in creative, even illegal ways.

"I have all of my required texts for the semester. However, it has been years since I've purchased all of my texts outright in a given semester," Marden said. "I usually buy the books that I can afford and find illegal torrents (files) from which to download the remaining books."

Derek Baker, assistant manager of Barnes & Noble at MSU, said he's seen numerous options for students pop up the past decade or so. He has worked for the company for 14 years, and most of that time has been spent working on the college textbook side of the business.

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