English Profs Get Entrepreneurial/Monopolistic

The textbook market on campuses has always appeared distorted. Hundreds of dollars on books that students often barely touch. Frequent new editions, ‘forcing’ waves of students to purchase new, rather than used, books.

John Hechinger of the WSJ has an interesting article on the rise of custom textbooks and the toll it is taking on students/parents. Basically, specific departments at specific schools are having custom versions of ‘standard’ books printed and assigning them to their students (keeping them out of the increasingly global market in textbooks). Moreover, in many cases, the books cannot be sold back and resold on the used market.

The point of sharing the article is to highlight a truth about campus entrepreneurship: EVERYONE IS DOING IT. The article highlights english and other social science departments following this strategy. So students should always keep an entrepreneurial perspective when on campus.

Read below for some excerpts from the article.

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.”


The custom-textbook business has become the fastest-growing segment of the $3.5 billion market for U.S. new college texts, comprising 12% of sales for 2006, the latest year for which data is available. Royalty deals generate tens of thousands of dollars for some big academic departments. The arrangements have drawn little attention, despite increasing legislative and regulatory scrutiny of the spiraling price of textbooks, which have been rising at twice the rate of inflation over the past two decades.

In 2005, a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office criticized several textbook industry practices — including frequent new editions and the “bundling” of books with extras like CDs and workbooks — that discourage the purchase of used books and inflate prices for students.

The agency found that college students spend an average of about $900 a year on textbooks. That’s the equivalent of 8% of tuition and fees at the average private four-year college, 26% at a state university and 72% at a community college.


One thought on “English Profs Get Entrepreneurial/Monopolistic

  1. Pingback: Kindle to Bring Creative Destruction to Textbook/Library Market? « Campus Entrepreneurship

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