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(Oct. 3, 2002, Gazette)

It's always the same. At the beginning of every semester, university students everywhere are faced with a host of bills to pay and supplies to buy. It's expected to happen, almost like tradition. While shopping is normally an enjoyable activity, it becomes burdensome to see all your summer job money being pocketed by bookstores and universities. Don't get me wrong, I understand the importance of a good education, it just hurts a little to see all your hard-earned cash being handed over to someone else.

I'm brand new to the game, not yet tainted by rising textbook prices and growing student loans, but that doesn’t mean I'm oblivious to what's happening all around me. You'd be scarce to find someone who hasn't been burned by an overpriced textbook. "All this for some paper and ink?" they'll say.

At Memorial we're rather lucky, even if we don't know it. While textbook prices may be rising, tuition rates have decreased by 10 per cent since last term. At only $89 per credit hour we're getting one of the most economically friendly educations in the country.

Unfortunately there's one aspect of university life that is showing no signs of decrease: that, my friend, is the textbook. A basic economy course can teach you why these books cost so much. It's opportunity cost versus opportunity lost. The majority of people will not go without books because they know their grades will suffer if they do not fork over the cash and just buy the book. There is a positive correlation between buying books and getting good grades. Not buying required texts is too much of a risk to take.

The only thing we can do is look at the source of the problem. A natural tendency would be to blame the bookstore. They get to add on huge fees once they buy the books … don't they? Not quite. While a small percentage does go to the bookstore, the majority of the costs are determined by the publisher. You can blame author royalties, the cost of paper and ink, even rising oil prices; all these things do play a role in how much you’re paying to read Myers in Modules.

Like anything, there are people who are willing to play a little dirty to get their textbooks. With the mass availability of photocopiers, every term some people are bound to defy copyright laws and photocopy an entire book. It's not clear sailing though: if the spine looks damaged at all the person is immediately identified as a “photocopier” and told that their book cannot be returned.

When I asked Robert Hickey, manager of the MUN bookstore, how he felt about students photocopying text books he said: "All we can do is inform students about copyright laws and copyright infringement. At the bookstore we definitely discourage photocopying.”

To combat the problems they're having with copyright infringement, some publishers are using paper that, when photocopied, produces only black pages. Other companies are shrink-wrapping books, and once the wrap is broken the book cannot be returned. While shrink-wrap is used primarily to protect the CD-ROMs and internet site passwords that come with the books, it also does a good job of preventing texts from being copied.

The Internet is becoming an increasing player in the world of textbooks, with sites like www.amazon.ca selling post-secondary books. Yet a quick comparison clearly shows that is it cheaper and easier to buy books at MUN's own bookstore. Wie Geht's, a German text, costs $97 at the MUN bookstore and $136.83 on amazon.ca.

Obviously online stores are not quite competitive enough to put the MUN bookstore out of business.

So what is left to do, other than to look for used books when you can and try selling your old books once you're done with them? Political pressure could be used to try and get the federal or provincial governments to subsidize texts thus reducing the costs. This happens in secondary schools and should definitely be applied to post-secondary books.

A fine balance must be struck when dealing with this issue of expensive textbooks. Ethics must come into play and photocopying should be avoided at all costs. It's important to realize that by photocopying a book you are eventually causing the costs of the books to increase. My recommendation? Work really hard and try your hand at winning scholarships. That way paying for textbooks doesn’t have to come out of your pocket.
Katie Norman is a first-year English student with a huge stack of new, and expensive, textbooks.