College textbook prices nationwide have increased at nearly four times the rate of inflation over the past 11 years, according to a study released last month by a public interest research group.

The second annual edition of “Ripoff 101” was released by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Higher Education Project. The study surveyed the most widely purchased textbooks at 59 colleges and universities across the country.

The expanded survey uncovered more evidence that textbook prices are a significant part of college costs, textbook prices are rising at a fast pace and publishers use a variety of tactics to inflate the cost of textbooks.

As higher education costs continue to skyrocket for American students and families, the price of college textbooks represents a serious part of the affordability equation, the study concluded. It found that the average student will spend nearly $900 each year purchasing textbooks.

The most commonly purchased textbooks on college campuses have new editions published every three years, on average. New editions of the textbooks surveyed cost, on average, 45 percent more than used copies of the previous edition.

Of the textbooks surveyed, new textbook prices jumped 12 percent between the previous and current editions.

Economics Department Chair Jim Albrecht agreed that publishers have total control over what they offer universities in terms of updated texts.

“Some of my colleagues complain about the rate of increase in textbook prices, and I think some consider price when they decide on required texts,” he said. “I think that most faculty go for the `best’ text irrespective of price and that publishers are therefore in a good monopoly position vis-a-vis their customers.”

Publishers also sell their textbooks “bundled,” or shrink-wrapped with additional instructional material such as CD-ROMs and workbooks, which tends to increase the price of the textbook by an average of 10 percent, according to the study.

Additionally, 50 percent of all bundled books surveyed did not have an accompanying unbundled version on the shelf.

Sixty-five percent of the faculty surveyed in the report said that they used the bundled items “rarely” or “never.”

The survey also found that American students pay more for their textbooks than overseas students would pay for the same textbook. The average textbook surveyed cost 20 percent more in the United States than it did in the United Kingdom.

For example, according to Thompson Learning’s Web site, all books found in the survey cost an average of 72 percent more than in the U.S. than in the U.K., Africa and the Middle East.

Several state-based public interest research groups have called on the publishing industry to adopt policies that would ensure that publishers keep production and pricing costs as low as possible while maintaining educational value.

In Jan. 2004, after the first “Ripoff 101” study was released by the U.S. PIRG, many students, faculty and lawmakers asked the publishing industry to adopt these recommendations formally into their business practices. State PIRGs have asked the Association of American Publishers to issues recommendations to its member companies. To date, the AAP has refused to issue such recommendations, according to the PIRGs.

“This report shows that publishers use needless new editions and gimmicks to drive up the cost of textbooks,” Luke Swarthout, state PIRG higher education associate, said. “The losers in this scam are students who will have a harder time paying for college.”

Some Georgetown students agreed that publishers are using exorbitantly high textbook prices to take advantage of students.

“It’s a rip-off,” Caitlin O’Connell (COL ’05) said. “Most of these books are republished each year, and although it requires a lot of extra work on my part, it makes more sense to search online and find a previous edition for a lower price.”

Several Georgetown faculty have also voiced their concern about increasing textbook prices.

Jonathan Heathcote, assistant professor of economics, said he was concerned with the fact that publishers change little to nothing in new editions of textbooks.

“The minor changes between editions do not justify the high cost of new textbooks,” he said.

Additionally, Heathcote said that faculty should start indicating that old editions of textbooks are acceptable for their courses so that students can access the second-hand market.

“Publishers make large profits on the books they sell, which is why their sales reps work so hard to encourage faculty to adopt their books,” he said.

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