We’ve been hearing students grumble about the increasing number of “custom” textbooks being required on US college campuses. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal takes custom textbooks down a few notches, exposing hidden royalty payments, and the frustration that they cost.
“College students, already struggling with soaring tuition bills and expenses, are encountering yet another financial hit: Publishers and schools are working together to produce ‘custom’ textbooks that can limit students’ use of the money-saving trade in used books. And in a controversial twist, some academic departments are sharing in the profits from these texts. The University of Alabama, for instance, requires freshman composition students at its main campus to buy a $59.35 writing textbook titled ‘A Writer’s Reference,’ by Diana Hacker. The spiral-bound book is nearly identical to the same ‘A Writer’s Reference’ that goes for $30 in the used-book market and costs about $54 new. The only difference in the Alabama version: a 32-page section describing the school’s writing program — which is available for free on the university’s Web site. This version also has the University of Alabama’s name printed across the top of the front cover, and a notice on the back that reads: ‘This book may not be bought or sold used.’”