(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 doesnt 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?"
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
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 youre
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 doesnt have to come out of your pocket.
Katie Norman is a first-year English
student with a huge stack of new, and expensive, textbooks.