Martin Center column targets high textbook prices

Megan Zogby writes for the Martin Center about the continuing problem of high college textbook prices.

As college textbook prices have increased 88 percent since 2006, education reformers wonder how universities can make books more affordable. One simple thing they could do is to stop selling textbooks with absurdly high mark-ups, the difference between the cost incurred by the bookstore for textbooks and the price at which they’re sold. While some progress has been made within the UNC system, much room for improvement remains.

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, for example, signed a contract with Barnes and Noble in 2009 to merge its university bookstore with Barnes and Noble. That conjunction promised students lower book prices, bringing down the mark-up from 23 percent to 18 percent. However, merging the bookstore has meant that students still pay higher prices than they would if they bought books from an online competitor or the book publisher. The rationale for the merger may have been affordability, but textbooks remain expensive for students who trust UNC-Charlotte’s bookstore to offer the best price.

When students feel they’ve been overcharged, they take to social media to let the bookstore know. On the Barnes and Noble UNCC Facebook page, one student left a review describing how the bookstore charged him $115 to rent a used textbook—which he found on Amazon for $15. “Barnes and Noble needs to be boycotted for exploiting college students for insane profits. I will never spend a dime there again,” he wrote. Another student left a review stating that the bookstore sold an access code for his textbook for $96, but he discovered that the code was available through the publisher for $55. Yet another student left a negative review, writing that bookstore employees told him that he could return books on a certain day, and then refused to accept his books when he came back.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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