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ERIC Number: EJ991690
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2012-Sep-3
Pages: N/A
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: N/A
ISSN: ISSN-0009-5982
With "Access Codes", Textbook Pricing Gets More Complicated than Ever
Young, Jeffrey R.
Chronicle of Higher Education, Sep 2012
The story of one University of Maine student's quest for a reasonably priced textbook reveals just how complicated course materials have become as the textbook industry makes its awkward transition from print to digital. The student is Luke Thomas, a senior majoring in business on the Orono campus, who last semester took a 250-person introductory English course called "The Nature of Story." The required textbook was compiled by the professor, John R. Wilson, and published by Cengage. Mr. Wilson also asked students to purchase access to online supplementary materials that came bundled with new copies of the textbook. Total price tag for the book and an access code to get to the online system: $150. Mr. Thomas was taking the course with his then-fiancee (now wife), so he hoped to buy just one textbook they could share. The trick, though, was that each student in the course needed his or her own access code to get to the online discussion board and homework-submission system. And Mr. Thomas was told by the professor and by officials at the campus bookstore that the textbook and code came only as a package deal, meaning the couple would have to pay $300 to get the two access codes and an extra book they didn't need. In the good-old days when print was the only option, students had plenty of free or cheap ways to get required textbooks. Borrow one from a friend. Check out a copy from the library. Buy a used copy for a fraction of the price. Or rent a copy through one of several companies providing that service. But the latest textbook enhancements, which require individual access codes to get to bonus materials online, threaten to displace all of those alternatives. Most access codes are good only for a limited time, and once they are activated they can't be used by other students. In some cases, publishers charge almost as much for the access code alone as they do for a new printed textbook. It's common sense that things that are digital should be less expensive and better for consumers. But with textbooks, the underlying problem with the market is the fact that publishers get to set the price of textbooks without any input from students because students need to buy whatever they're assigned. In other areas, if students don't like the price they can go buy something else. The majority of university courses still use printed textbooks without requiring online supplements. But the use of added online materials is growing fast, and certainly faster than all-digital options, in which a printed book is cast aside completely.
Chronicle of Higher Education. 1255 23rd Street NW Suite 700, Washington, DC 20037. Tel: 800-728-2803; Tel: 202-466-1000; Fax: 202-452-1033; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Higher Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: Maine