The growing cost of textbooks

As many textbooks now break the $100 barrier, complaints are rising

Some college and public-interest groups charge that the publishing industry is forcing textbook prices higher by introducing unnecessary new editions and packaging books with expensive study materials that not all students want or need. The National Association of College Bookstores says wholesale prices of college textbooks have risen nearly 40 percent in the past five years.

And students are finding that many of the same books are sold overseas at much lower prices.

Note, by the way, that textbook prices have not risen as rapidly as tuition and fees (admittedly the latter is difficult to calculate in real terms, given different way of valuing financial aid). This makes it harder for universities to make a stink.

The economic problem is simple: professors assign a book without worrying much about the cost that students will pay. In fact a pricey book might be a nice way to drive down your enrollment and lower your workload.

But do we really need Congressional hearings on the matter?

How about this for a simple solution? If a professor can lower the price of classroom materials, the university adds one-tenth of the class’s gain to that professor’s salary or research account. Yes in the short run there might be inefficient skimping but in the longer run prices should come down. Some professors, of course, might resort to teaching their classes through blogs. As the subtitle of this blog notes, “Small Ideas for a Much Better World.”

Arnold Kling, a master expositor of economics, has another excellent solution.