Monday, September 05, 2005

Textbook time again 

The NYTimes is covering textbook costs again. I noted back in July that renting textbooks was becoming more common, and that students were quite sophisticated in their puchasing decisions. Citing the same study we cited then, and this article follows that vein. John Whitehead looks at it from a faculty member's point of view, though, and thinks the rental game is a bad deal. For him.
ASU has a textbook rental system for textbooks are "free." At least this is the answer when you ask students how much their books cost. Then you help them figure out that that the cost is in their fees. Still, a rental system is cheaper than the typical textbook system at most schools. Also, book choices are locked in for three years reducing demand and resale uncertainty. The students love the system.

Which explains why professors hate the rental system and are trying to get rid of it. Actually, professors hate it for two reasons:

  • Book choices are locked in for 3 years, we are lazy, and we don't actually read the book we choose until we teach out of it and find out we hate it. Then we're stuck with the book for two more years.
  • Common textbooks across multiple sections/professors of a course reduces our choice. For example, I have to choose between Mankiw's and somebody else's micro book. I had no choice on the international textbook that I used last year (i.e., academic free, and all that nonsense).
I am surprised by faculty members who change their texts for courses frequently. Macroeconomics being a relatively young field, textbooks do change relatively more often, but microeconomic principles still teaches the same materials it did 25 years ago. Both areas are prone to fad or hot topic areas, and texts veer heavily into and out of each fad. But that's because faculty get caught up in the fads and want the textbook with the hot topic.

I will join Whitehead in my distaste for common textbook adoptions ... but this was happening well before the advent of renting texts.