Textbook law fails to bind publishers
Published: Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 10, 2013 01:09
A shared frustration spreads on university campuses around textbook purchase time. According to several professors and students, the Federal Textbook Price Disclosure Law has failed to ease the tension caused by high prices, limited options and material confusion.
The Federal Textbook Price Disclosure Law attempted to change that. First proposed in 2008, the law went into full effect in the 2011 school year after being officially enacted on July 1, 2010, according to Miami’s director of bookstores Sarah Thacker.
As a result of the law, booksellers are now required to give customers the option to buy items separately, as opposed to exclusively in bundles, to avoid charging students for unnecessary materials. Professors will also be required to disclose what texts will be needed for their classes upon registration time. Publishers must also make their products cost-effective for students by disclosing price discrepancies among different formats of the text.
Sophomore Mary Schultz said she was frustrated when only the most expensive version of one of her texts was available.
“Buying a book used is always a lot cheaper, but there have been several times I’ve had no choice but to buy a plastic wrapper, brand new book that could be double the price,” Schultz said.
Miami graduate student and speech pathology professor Brooke Bonner has a unique perspective on the situation.
“I had heard of the law as a student and seen it implemented as a teacher,” she said. “But I don’t know that students would ever choose to take a class based on the price of a textbook.”
Bonner explained that she has not seen enrollment levels in her own classes or in her graduate level classes change due to the price of a textbook being disclosed earlier.
Thacker said she has seen only minor changes as result of the law.
“We’ve seen an increase in orders turned in on time from professors, but it doesn’t stop anyone from turning orders in late or changing their book requirements,” Thacker said.
While the law is federally enacted, Thacker explained that professors do not always know their teaching schedules or curriculum and should be allowed to change books if need be.
“What makes this difficult is if they change a book just before the semester starts, then we’ve had the book on our website for months,” Thacker said. “It’s not their fault but it is harder.”
According to Thacker, while bookstores have tried their best to comply with the new law, publishers have not been as cooperative. She said she has still seen a lack of price disclosures from publishing companies as well as a prevalence of textbooks still sold only in bundles.
About half of all textbooks are still sold exclusively in bundles, Thacker said.
“Buying extra things like CDs and online access codes when all I really need is the book is really frustrating, especially when I can’t sell it back at the end of the semester like I can with the book,” Schultz said.
After experiencing frustrations as a student, Bonner wanted to change the problem in her own classes.
“As a student, I always felt that textbooks were often required and then not used effectively in class,” Bonner said. “In my class, we use the book every class and it is really more of a workbook than a textbook.”
As someone who interacts with students, professors and book publishers, Thacker said she has seen the largest changes in professors who are making more efforts to be clear about what books are needed in their classes as early as possible. Students still order about the same amount of books as they did prior to 2011 and have no choice but to purchase what the publisher provides.
According to Thacker, a student’s major can make the amount of money they spend on books vary, but the universal problem remains that students could be saving a lot more no matter their major if publishers would better comply with the law. Thacker explained that she understood why the law would not have been so effective.
“It’s a pretty complicated situation, a lot more complicated than law makers intended it to be,” Thacker said. “I don’t really think it’s changed anything.”