The College Textbook Scam

The College Textbook Scam

It is important to raise awareness on the college textbook scam.  Textbooks are ridiculously expensive and textbook publishers are increasing the already heavy financial burden borne by most college students.  Student debt will continue to rise as textbook costs take up a good part of the overall debt that students are left with after they graduate.  Textbook publishers are only concerned with making profit, not the welfare of the average college student.  Publishers do not make money when books are resold.  To hinder the resale market, textbook publishers have created custom editions and homework-code packaged textbooks.

The former works like this: let’s take a new Chemistry book which costs $200; used copies being bought and sold on sites like Amazon, the price may drop down to around $50.  The thing is that textbook publishers only make money when a new copy is sold, so they mitigate it by creating the custom edition books.  Custom books are very similar to the original textbook, but with a few differences.  One, the custom edition will have the university’s name on it; this ensures the textbook can only be bought and sold amongst students at that specific university, instead of the 20 million across North America.  Two, the custom edition will typically come in paperback, which is just not flattering, due to it being less sturdy and harder to resell.  Finally, the custom edition is merely a subset of the original content, so you’re basically paying less for incomplete content.  All of these changes are to make sure that the student buys a new copy of the book and adds money in the publisher’s pocket.

Homework code packaged textbooks work in the same way.  Due to the feature that it’s a one-time use only, each student has to buy a new copy of the textbook in order to use that code, but, in turn, this puts the resale value to zero, because, like I said, each student needs a code for their own one-time use.

These shady practices are used by nearly all textbook publishers.  The Oxford University Press, despite their tagline “Not for profit.  All for education”, seems to be only looking for profits.  Let me show you by taking a typical Biochemistry book, Biochemistry: The Molecular Basis of Life by Trudy McKee in this case.  Oxford University Press lists this Biochemistry book at $162.90, and claims that their “textbook is 25% less expensive in the United States than comparable books from commercial publishers”.  Using the ISBN number of this Biochemistry textbook one can do an internet search on Slugbooks, which is a site that looks for textbooks at a cheaper price on sites like Amazon or Chegg, and there were a myriad of cheaper prices from various websites.  The cheapest being $26.76 and that is 84% less than the original pricing from Oxford University Press.

Oxford University Press isn’t the only one using such tactics as I said before.  A book being used in a current Biology class at Ventura College is Campbell Biology: Concepts and Connections eighth edition customized for Ventura College by Jane Reece.  On Ventura College’s bookstore’s website, when you look up the ISBN number to this book, it being 9781269952378, you can find that the Biology book is listed at $72-$96, which is disregarding the code to access the online Pearson feature and the packaged deal with Into the Jungle by Sean Carroll which both had to be purchased for this specific course.  Due to this Biology textbook being a custom edition, you can’t find a lot of used copies online, so let’s look up the non-custom edition of Campbell Biology: Concepts and Connections eighth edition.  What can be found when looking up the non-custom edition on Slugbooks is the book listed at the lowest price of $20.14.  Now, keep in mind that the custom edition of Reece’s Biology textbook is missing chapters 20-33 due to it being a custom edition.  The fact that you can actually buy the original, non-customized, complete edition of the textbook for a cheaper price than the incomplete customized edition is astonishing.  The fact that textbook publishers would have the gall to do this is revolting and need to stop it for the sake of students’ financial situations.

In an interview with Giselle Alvarez, a Ventura College junior, she stated that the entirety of her textbooks from her time at Ventura College would range from $300-$500 individually and she had a hard time acquiring these textbooks due to the steep pricing.  She continued on about how she needed financial aid in order to purchase these textbooks.  Giselle had found cheaper prices online, but due to the fact half of her textbooks were custom editions, she was forced to purchase them from the bookstore.  Giselle is just one of many students who has to deal with the troubles of purchasing high-priced college textbooks.  It is a common occurrence for students to graduate with massive debt, so in order to help alleviate this burden, we need to push for use of online sites that sell used textbooks at a cheaper price.

Amazon, Chegg, and Slugbooks have been like helpful saviors to students; selling books at a much lower price.  However, Textbook publishers see these websites as obstacles to their increased profits.  In order to inhibit the selling of used books, textbook publishers scam students.  So, what can we do to stop these publishers?  Well, we do what I previously stated at the beginning: raise awareness, inform your professors, administrators, and classmates that custom editions and homework-code packaged textbooks are practically useless and only benefit the publishers that made them.


SlugBooks.  “The Problem with Textbooks”. Online video clip.  Youtube. 19 March 2013. Web.

Hill, Andrea.  “US Higher Education”.  Oxford University Press.  Front page.  Web.  2 November 2015.

“Ventura College Bookstore”.  Barnes & Noble College.  Campbell Biology >C<.  Web.  2 November 2015.

Alvarez, Giselle. “College Textbooks.” Telephone interview. 2 November 2015.


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  1. 1

    I agree with this 100%. We had too buy a new math book for V03 and we haven’t touched it, its the end of the semester and the only time I have touched it was to buy it and move it around in my room trying to find a place for it to be. It was over $120 and it just sits in my room.

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