Does It Come With a Free Professor to Explain It All?: It's time at our house for the semi-annual Buying of College Textbooks and Whining About the Cost. On the one hand, I kind of love the idea of getting our own copies of books without having to fight a school district for them, but at the same time, why on earth do they have to cost so much? One of my daughter's books, as I tweeted in amazement last night, was $223 for a new paperback. A hefty paperback, to be sure, with many valuable doorstop-like qualities, but a paperback nonetheless. In my day, boys and girls, overpriced college textbooks were hardcover! They'd break your back there in your bookbag, but you knew you were getting your money's worth! And even then, I don't think they were $223. Of course, I was in college so long ago that humans were still using shiny rocks for money, so who knows.
Fortunately, there are many options now for textbooks that in some ways reduce the cost. For the $223 tome, we also had a choice of buying used, renting new, or renting used. We went with the last, cheapest option, and will pay ninety-some dollars for the privilege of giving a dog-eared scribbled-on copy a home for four months. I still wonder, though, at the high prices. Is it just what the market will bear? Is there some extraordinary expense involved in creating textbooks? Do college bookstores mark them up hugely to pay the salary of the person who stands at the front door and makes you leave your purse in a cubbyhole? I know I could order from Amazon or other cheaper online sellers, but most of my kids' books have some sort of specific content for the college, so clearly they're onto that ploy. I just feel like we should get some sort of premium with our purchase -- an iPod, or a tutor.