So here’s the thing. After a long hiatus from college (but with a couple degrees to show for the effort) I am starting back to school with the thought of bringing my educational background more in line with what I do for a living, as well as the modern world in general. I have applied, enrolled and registered for my courses. I knew things were going to be more expensive than when I last attended college, thus I was able to swallow the per credit cost and application fees without choking too badly. Then I went to the bookstore.
I know this is a family friendly blog, but seriously, WTF?!
The picture at the top of this post represents a cup of espresso (4 shots over ice — my natural state is a little sleepy so I need all the help can get), which cost $2.79 at my local coffee shop; and $423 worth of books from my local community college. The flippin’ books cost like $100 an inch — and one of them was used! Moreover, it’s not as though these books are ultra specialized medical texts that only few people will buy each year. These are entry level business books on marketing an selling, an Econ book and three philosophy texts. All softcover! Maybe I’m just really old, but the idea of paying over $100 for a SOFTCOVER book causes me physical pain. At the community college that I am attending, my books cost more than a two-credit class would. Why?
If I went to a “normal” book store, like Barnes & Noble say (or even just went online with Amazon) and purchased general survey books on any of these subjects, I probably would have paid well under $40 per inch. It’s even possible that such books would have been authored by tenured college professors — perhaps even more reputable ones than those who authored my textbooks. I also wonder, of course, why texts authored by college professors have to cost more than those written by authors. I mean, they already have jobs: They are getting paid to profess. It’s the people who write books for a living who need to be making big money off books. Right? Well, maybe not.
But still, the idea of softcover textbooks costing two or three times more than general subject books on the same topic really rubs me the wrong way. Textbook companies appear to be preying on captive audiences of people who are among the least able to afford them — students. I feel fortunate that within the community college model, I will only have to do this four times, total. I think back to my undergrad days at a Big Ten school. When I attended, the school was on a quarter system (it has since changed to semesters), which meant that during a regular school year I would buy books three times. If I attended a summer session, I would buy books again. Given that it took me nearly five years to finish, I probably bought undergraduate textbooks 15 or 16 times. At today’s prices, that would be more than $6,000 — or the equivalent of a year and half of tuition at my community college.
Perhaps textbook companies use particularly precious wood, hand harvested by fairly-paid indigenous people in Amazonia, who have developed fast-growing, sustainable trees which can be harvested and pulped in a manner that actually enhances the environment rather than detracting from it. That, of course, would be worth paying for, so it’s my assumption that this is the truth. Because these books couldn’t possibly cost as much as the do if they were simply machine bound using the thinnest of varnished stock from regular run-of-the-paper-mill manufacturers. It wouldn’t be right. Especially when a PDF version would’ve been just as good, not to mention lighter (though as slim as these volumes are, not much lighter) to tote around.
I have a vague notion of what I am hoping to do with my current coursework, but not a real clear picture yet. As it stands, however, if financial gain is my ultimate motivation (and to be honest, I am not sure yet if it is) it seems like I should be exploring the clearly lucrative world of textbook publishing.