21 April 2016

Price of textbooks

The price of university textbooks is skyrocketing. Again. it has become a death spiral. The higher prices increase the incenvtive for students to find alternatives- and this generation has means to find or create alternatives beyond that of any previous generation. In addition, they have no qualms about less than legal solutions. These are the kids, after all, who download music for free, and see nothing wrong with buying a ticket to one movie, and skipping throuhg every film in the multiplex.

Why are the prices getting so high? It's because sales are dropping, and as the prices get even higher, the sales will drop even further. It is simply the market driving the invisible hand to become the invisible fist.

It's actually simple. Let's look at just one aspect of the price increase.  Textbooks are largely printed from big equipment. That equipment must be mowered and maintained and housed in big buildings. Those buildings need to be lit and heated in winter and air conditioned in the summer. The need for all this does not change if you have a print run of a thousand books, or five hundred, and therein lies the problem: with declining sales the overhead operating costs must be spread out across fewer potential sales, so instead of needing to make an extra, say, ten bucks per book to cover the overhead in the thousand print run, they have to charge twenty extra bucks per book for the five hundred print run. And when the print run descends to 250, it'll be an extra forty bucks per buck.

That's really it. Its not a conspiracy, its not (completely) corporate greed. It's not a bunch of people who have decided to screw students just because. It's a bunch of struggling companies trying to find their way in the new paradigm and are struggling to meet their operating costs. And if they go under... then what?

I don't know anyone who knows the answer to that question.

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