Reducing Textbook Costs

Senate Student Committee has made the following recommendations for ways in which text books and other course materials might be made more readily available to students at the lowest possible prices. Student expenditure on textbooks has increased significantly over the last few years. There are several reasons for this, including:

  • Textbook prices are subject to the usual annual publication cost increases.
  • A policy, adopted by the publishers, of bringing out new editions (with few changes) every one or two years, which deters the resale and reuse of older editions.
  • The adoption, by publishers, of “bundling” as common practice, allowing publishers to charge more by providing additional materials that may not be needed or wanted.
  • A continued significant increase in Canadian prices compared to US prices.

This burden on students is making it even harder for students from disadvantaged backgrounds to consider university, particularly given that OSAP assessments are conservative when considering the cost of textbooks.

There are several ways in which faculty members can help students in this respect, all the while ensuring that continued high standards in the content of the course material are met. Please consider the following (some suggestions will be more applicable in some courses and disciplines than in others):

For example:
  1. agree to use a particular edition of a book, as required reading, only if the publisher guarantees that the edition will remain available for say, five years.
  2. agree to use a textbook only if the price is reduced by 20% to students at Windsor.
  1. An important way to ensure cost-effective textbook purchasing practices is early ordering by instructors. It may be possible to negotiate textbook prices if book orders are placed on or before the Campus Bookstore’s deadline. The Campus Bookstore can also contact used-book distributors to try to get the assigned textbooks at a discounted price. Large quantities of used books can only be acquired when there is sufficient lead time. Orders which are not placed on time will likely have to be filled through a publisher at higher cost which must be passed along to students. Any steps that can be taken with Faculties and AAUs to ensure that instructors meet timelines of the Bookstore will result in cost savings to students and better availability of course materials at the start of courses.
  2. Whenever possible it would be helpful if AAUs would assign course materials for those courses for which late instructional appointments are anticipated. In some areas, this is already done and ensures that students will have course materials available to them early in the semester and at a cost that is reasonable. Where ordering of course materials is left as the responsibility of an instructor appointed late (as is the unavoidable case in many instances), the inevitable result is more expensive and often much-delayed course materials for students.
  3. Avoid purchasing textbook “bundles”. Bundling has become common practice among publishers, allowing them to charge more by providing additional materials that may not be needed or wanted. Additional books, access codes and/or electronic devices do not add value to bundles unless they are fully incorporated into the teaching of the course.
  4. Different offerings of a course in different terms should ideally use the same textbook for two reasons: a) a student who fails a course and retakes it the following term should not have to buy yet another textbook and b) it will increase availability of used textbooks. As such faculty are encouraged to construct course material so that current and previous textbooks (one or two editions) are sufficient, perhaps with some additional material being made available for those students who do not have the most recent edition, and to identify core books which could be used consistently enabling students to make purchases in a wide variety of ways that will reduce their costs while still allowing them to have the right materials. If a course changes its textbook each year or if sections of a course use a different textbook because instructors choose to go different ways (even though the differences between books are minimal at the introductory level), it greatly reduces the flexibility that students have to recycle books among each other or purchase them on the used book market.
    1. Consult with other professors to see if there is a single book that can be used over two courses, or that can at least continue to be used as a resource for other courses.
  5. Try to identify textbooks that are equivalent in content and delivery and that are more reasonably priced than those “pushed” by the major publishers.
  6. Review costs when dealing with publishers. Faculty members who are choosing the textbooks as teaching resources might not realize that the price of the textbooks can be negotiated with the supplier. This negotiation has to happen between the professor and the supplier, since only the professor can suggest that s/he will change to a different textbook/supplier. This negotiation can take a few forms.
    1. Pressure publishers to lower cover prices for Canadian editions based on the stronger Canadian dollar.
  7. Make first-year students aware of the buyback policy of the Campus Bookstore.
    1. Warn students that they need to be aware of any proposed change in the textbook edition used in a course. (In some cases there are negligible changes between editions.)
  8. Careful consideration of what constitutes a required text (as opposed to a suggested text) can also help students. A suggested book is purchased by the bookstore only in very small numbers while a required text is purchased in larger numbers. Few students buy suggested books. However, the solution to this is not to make a suggested book a required one. Students often buy books which are subsequently used only for a few of their pages and feel that they have spent a lot of money for what they perceive as very little value.
  9. Course notes packages or courseware (perhaps with reference to freely-available on-line material), as opposed to textbooks, are often a very good way to provide students with what they need and cut costs. Document Imaging Centre is the vehicle whereby these are produced and the Campus Bookstore is where they are sold. Faculty members may also consider posting these notes to the web.
  10. Use material that is freely accessible to students through the library web portals.
  11. Contact the Campus Bookstore to find out more about the ways in which faculty can help to reduce textbook prices.