Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research has a paper Are Copyrights A Textbook Scam? Alternatives to Financing Textbook Production in the 21st Century. He argues that
The reason that textbooks are costly is that the government grants textbook publishers copyright monopolies. Copyright monopolies allow the publishers to prevent anyone from competing with them in the market. They are the only ones that can sell a copyrighted textbook in whole or in part. This prevents individuals from freely reproducing a textbook or making it available over the Internet.He is wrong. You could have all the copyright protection you wanted, but if the textbooks were sold into a competitive market, rather than being specified by professors and bought by students, prices would fall, inexpensive paperback versions would appear and the little cute tricks like new editions every other year would be held in check. For details see our earlier post, Who ordered that?
If you think that I am wrong, ask yourself why high school texts, which are both specified and bought by Boards of Education are really cheap.
The good news is that people are starting to wake up. Baker nails it when he says:
Textbook costs have consistently outpaced the overall rate of inflation, presenting a large and rapidly growing burden to millions of college students. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), textbook prices have been rising about 6 percent annually, or twice as fast as the overall rate of inflation, since the 1987/1988 academic year. The GAO estimates that the average first-year student at a four-year public university spent $898 on textbooks and supplies in the 2003/2004 academic year.1 This means that a student working at a minimum wage job would have to put in nearly 170 hours of work each year, just to pay for her textbooks.