Little alternative for costly books

By Jonathan Wroble

Twenty years ago, a five-year gap between the first and second edition of a textbook would not have been unusual. Today, that is not the case.

“Two years between textbook revisions would be a long time,” said Brian Bradley, the associate director of retail operations at the Illini Union. Bradley accounted that technology and corporate objectives are the reasons for the frequency of new textbook editions.

For students, this often means high prices for textbooks that are necessary to succeed in a course. In addition, many students are unable to sell back their older book editions at the end of a semester.

“Students are really frustrated not so much at the buying end as the selling end,” Bradley said.

He stated that bookstores find little worth in old textbooks that have lost their wholesale value.

Fred M. Gottheil, a professor of economics, thinks that it is important for a student to own as new a textbook as possible.

“You could drive a 1960 Ford, but it makes sense to get the latest,” he said.

Gottheil is currently working on the fifth edition of Principles of Economics, the textbook that accompanies his course of the same name. Since 1995, Gottheil has put out a revised edition every three years. His inspiration for writing and updating the textbook, however, is not for personal gain.

In 1989, Gottheil lost his son Josh to cancer. As a result, Gottheil created Josh’s Fund, which sends much of the profit from his textbook sales to the Oncology Nursing Society. The fund provides money to nurses who work with cancer patients.

“The textbook is about that as much as it is about anything else,” Gottheil said.

The book features an article written about Josh after his death, and all of the names used in examples are those of Josh’s friends. Gottheil explained that these personal touches do not detract from the academic value of the text.

“When I wrote (this textbook), I could see a student reading it and getting it,” he said. “It’s the best one out there.”

Still, Bradley said that both textbooks and professors need to be judged on a case-by-case basis. For example, Gottheil’s three-year gap between revisions is lengthy by today’s standards. Similarly, different professors handle new textbooks in different ways.

“Some of the professors are pretty accommodating. Other professors require newer editions of textbooks,” Bradley said.

Mary Laskowski, assistant undergraduate librarian, agreed. She explained how professors use the undergraduate library to aid students who can’t buy books.

“(Some professors) want a copy here for students who can’t afford the textbooks,” she said.

At the Media and Reserve Center at the undergraduate library, students can use copies of course textbooks for two hours at a time, and in rare cases a day or even a week. Laskowski was part of the now-cancelled Textbook Reserve Project, which aimed to place a multitude of textbooks on reserve. Further efforts are being made to increase the availability of textbooks online.

While Internet technology may facilitate free access to textbook material, it also has contributed to the rise of bundles in campus bookstores. Bundles are packages of textbooks, Web site access cards, tutorial CDs, and course guides that are all sold as one item. The goal of a bundle is actually to save a student’s money.

“For five dollars more, we can include fifty dollars more of added value to a course,” Bradley said.

For Gottheil, learning has no price tag.

“Education is expensive, but the payoff is enormous,” he said.