The End of the College Textbook as We Know It?
The unsustainable "higher education bubble" has received some well-deserved attention lately - watch Glenn Reynolds talk about it in detail here. A direct partner in the "higher education bubble" is the unsustainable "college textbook bubble," captured graphically in the chart above - notice how it totally dwarfs the "real estate bubble." Since 1980, educational books have risen annually at more than twice the rate of overall inflation, 6.7% vs. 3.3% respectively. "When students pay more for new textbooks than tuition in a year, then something's wrong," says Rand S. Spiwak, executive vice president at Daytona State in the article below. From today's Chronicle of Higher Education, a possible solution? "Here's the new plan: Colleges require students to pay a course-materials fee, which would be used to buy e-books for all of them (whatever text the professor recommends, just as in the old model).Why electronic copies? Well, they're far cheaper to produce than printed texts (MP: $25-30 vs. $150-300), making a bulk purchase more feasible. By ordering books by the hundreds or thousands, colleges can negotiate a much better rate than students were able to get on their own, even for used books. And publishers could eliminate the used-book market and reduce incentives for students to illegally download copies as well.Of course those who wanted to read the textbook on paper could print out the electronic version or pay an additional fee to buy an old-fashioned copy—a book."MP: As Glenn Reynolds reminds us, "a process that cannot go on forever, won't." When some students are spending more on textbooks than tuition, that certainly seems to qualify as a situation that cannot go on forever. For the unsustainable "textbook bubble," e-books seem to offer one possible solution.