CUSTOM EDITION TEXTBOOKS: FRIEND OR FOE?

Math 1153 textbook with various coins on the cover.Andrew Crighton

Editor-in-Chief

University custom edition textbooks are a growing trend that not a lot of students are happy about. Custom edition textbooks are manifest when a university and publisher work together to produce a book that is specific to that university.

These books have a tendency to be hard to find second hand or through third party sources, which gives them a reputation as being a way for the university to increase their sales by monopolizing the source of the books.

It’s easy to see the bad sides of custom edition textbooks: if they are only available for purchase from the university bookstore, then they can’t be found new through online sources, and sometimes used books are unavailable, as is the option to rent them. They are also not eligible for buyback in some cases.

Looking at these points, it’s easy to reach the conclusion that they are simply a negative for students all around.

Jonny Fisher, owner of Textbook Exchange in Pocatello, sees all the negatives, but also acknowledges the benefits. Fisher slightly agrees with the idea that custom edition textbooks are a way for the university to cut out third parties.

“The framework of that argument is true. The underlying premise is correct, but it’s not the university, it’s the publishers,” said Fisher.

The university typically does not bring in the revenue associated with not buying back books and not making them available for rent because they often do not own the bookstore on campus. The bookstore on the ISU campus is not owned by the university but is owned, operated, and leased by the Follett Higher Education Group.

On the Follett/ISU bookstore website there are currently 17 ISU custom books available.

“We sell them used, and we buy them just like any other textbook,” said Fisher. “I think that [the ISU bookstore] works the same as us.”

Two are available for rent or purchase, new or used and one other is available for rent, new. All others are only available to be purchased new.

“It’s very easy to just look at all the negatives of custom books, but it’s also important to note that they do provide some benefits to students as well,” said Fisher.

When a publisher prints a book specifically for a university they know how many they have to print to meet demand. They also can print it on cheaper paper and use spiral binding to help cut costs. While the ticket price of the book may be very similar to that of a non-custom edition, the net cost of production is lower, so less of the price is mark up. The net cost of a custom edition book can be up to half as much as a standard edition.

“I see them as a necessary evil; with the costs of textbooks it helps keep the costs down,” said Amy Mills, Associate Lecturer. “The only things I don’t like about them is that the pages rip out so easily and that the publishers want us to change the editions every year.”

Custom edition textbooks can also remove subject matter that isn’t covered in the university’s curriculum, streamlining the books and further reducing production costs.

“There are a lot of misconceptions and I’m still on the fence,” said Fisher. “There are benefits to students, but it also puts limits on the competitive market…They have their place, but they’re also abused.”

Follett was not available for comment.

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