Student group calls for alternatives to textbooks

September 29, 2011 7:27:59 PM PDT
Ask any college student or parent and they'll tell you textbooks these days are extremely expensive. 7 On Your Side takes a look at the movement to make them more affordable.

The Student Public Interest Research Group says the average student spends more than $1,100 each year on textbooks. They're calling for a new business model that they say would improve the bottom line of students, authors and publishers.

The shelves at Ned's Book Store in Berkeley are already half empty this school year. Students swarmed the store to grab the books assigned to them by their professors.

"Students don't have the choice which textbook they buy, they have to buy what they're assigned," said Nicole Allen from CALPIRG.

And for those books they pay a premium. For example, the "Biology of Microorganisms" book costs $187. The economic book "Microeconomic Theory" goes for $197 and "Human Anatomy" goes for $221.

"I barely hang out. I barely go out and eat. I just eat dorm food and I really don't have enough money to do other stuff," said sophomore April Kung.

One parent stopped to sign a petition demanding that publishers and professors find an alternative solution.

"They keep sending out different editions of essentially the same book just to put out new books and the used textbooks are no longer any good," said parent Patrick Conway.

UC Berkeley is the latest stop on a 40-campus tour by a coalition called The Text Book Rebellion. Mascots symbolizing "Mr. $200 Textbook" and "The Textbook Rebel" strolled Sproul Plaza gathering attention. Organizers gathered signatures hoping to change the book industry.

"Really what we're looking at is new models for publishers and the best example is a company called Flat World Knowledge," said Allen.

Flat World Knowledge makes its textbooks available for free on the Internet. Students also have the option of buying black and white self-printed books, e-books and audio books for as little as $29.95. A manager at Ned's Books, David Delgado, says that model just won't work.

"I wouldn't see that happening just because the information isn't exactly cheap. Books aren't free and there's a lot of work that goes into it," said Delgado.

But students say what we have now isn't working. Prices have increased 22 percent over the last four years. This upward trend has been happening for 20 years.

"Textbooks have been increasing four times the rate of inflation and I personally can feel it," said Kiley Morris from CALPIRG.

And even book sellers say that just can't continue.

"I do think there's a breaking point, yes, and I think we're getting really close to that," said Delgado.

The Association of American Publishers told ABC7 it is already aggressively working to provide students with alternative and less expensive course materials. One popular option offered by book sellers is to rent books at half the cost.

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