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Inflating textbook costs

Right now, college students at Westfield State College, in my House district, and across Massachusetts are being held hostage by powerful publishing companies by the exorbitant costs of their course textbooks.

According to the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, the average college student spends about $900 on textbooks each year. Not only are textbook prices high, they're rising. Textbook prices have skyrocketed at four times the rate of inflation over the last decade.

Why? One reason is the lack of competition in the textbook market. Consolidation in the last decade has reduced the number of major publishers from several dozen to just five. Furthermore, students, as a group, have very little purchasing power because textbook decisions aren't made by them but by the faculty who decide which textbooks a student must buy for their class.

When selecting course materials, college professors can't make the right choices for their students if they don't have the options and the information that they need. Seventy-five percent of professors report that publishers' representatives do not disclose price information to them during sales meetings.

Furthermore, low cost or no frills options of texts, if any, are often unavailable or hard to find.

Textbook publishers have a captive audience on college campuses statewide. They engage in shenanigans aimed at maximizing their profits despite the needs of their consumers.

New editions of textbooks are issued frequently by publishers to drive up the cost and make it difficult for students to find cheaper used copies.

Another publishing tactic which drives up prices is the "bundling" of books with additional materials such as CD-ROMS, work books and study guides.

There is currently legislation filed in Massachusetts which would require publishers to disclose price information to faculty and require that any bundled book also be available "a la carte."

A public hearing on House Bill 1200 will be held at the State House by the Higher Education Committee on Oct. 2 at 11 a.m., in Hearing Room A2. College students, faculty, and the public are welcome to testify.

Rep. Donald F. Humason, Jr.,


Member of the Joint Committee on Higher Education