Professor’s choice determines book costs for classes

Ryan_WebIn my professional life I’m a publisher, I’ve published about 15 books in the DJ industry (mobile DJs that do private parties, weddings, school dances, etc) and publish a magazine for DJs every other month.  During that time I have seen the cost of printing books come down dramatically, but I’ve now seen from a visit to the DMACC Bookstore that the cost of textbooks continued to climb from when I went to college in the early 1990s at ISU.

I always thought the reason for expensive books was because only a couple thousand copies of a textbook are usually printed.  Add this that the publisher and the bookstore, for each to make a reasonable profit, the book needed to be $150 for that advanced Statistics book that I had to have for class in 1994.

This doesn’t make sense to me.  When I can get short-form books of 100 pages or so printed using Amazon’s Createspace and print them one at a time digitally for $2.50 each.  Yes these books are generally a lot larger than that, and the author and publisher needs to make money.

Using the Createspace book member order calculator (at I can print one full color book 8.5×11 for $28.85.  And that’s just printing one book!

Now how can that book end up costing $200 at the DMACC (or other college) bookstores?  At a generous writer royalty of 25%, that gives the author $50 for each book sold.  I’m told that the bookstores make less than 10%, so does that mean that the publisher has $130 left to print, market and make a profit?  This sounds way off!

Can’t They Just Pick Cheaper Ones?

On the other hand… can the teachers just find less expensive books?  In classes like Contemporary Literature, you have to buy novels like “A Clockwork Orange,” “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and others that can be picked up used very easily for $5 each.

In other classes such as Principals of Advertising, digital add-ons raise the price and makes it impossible to sell back.  In my conversations and research at the DMACC bookstore, I found out there are so many ways books are sold now.  New textbooks come with digital access codes so the professors can use the online text and assignment online options the publishers offer.

There are unbound editions that are cheaper and cannot be sold back to the used market.  And then there is the rental system and the regular used system I was used to back in 1994, which is buy the book and then sell it back for a fraction of the price at the end of the semester.

All of this is totally up to the professor for the class.  If they specify that you have to have an online access code, you have to buy the new book.  If they don’t use the publisher’s online system, you can go used.  If you go used when you have to have an access code you are toast and won’t find that out until you are a week into the class.

Take “Society The Basics” required for SOC 110: you can buy it new for $187, but for certain sections you can buy it for $174 (a non-DMACC special edition).  However you can buy used for $130, rent a new one for $113, rent a used one for $61 or in a digital format for $83.

And remember if you bought it, you can possibly sell it back.  An average book will get you about 40-50% of what they can sell it for the next semester as a used book, if the bookstore wants it then.

So what can be done at DMACC?

It all comes back to the professor, as they are the ones that the publishers listen to, and the bookstore sells what they tell them to sell.

What can we do to get the professors to choose a less expensive option that still accomplishes the goals they have for the class and make the learning environment the best?  We want the best materials possible to learn from, but should the absolute best take into account the cost?

Talk to your professors, ask them nicely why they choose what they choose.  Make sure they know that you care because it’s what you will be paying for with your student loans for years to come!


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