Beyond Ivory-Tower Dome: Two Men Enter, One Man Leaves
I agree with Dave’s post about the lunacy of the "Textbook Transparency Act." There are obviously additional options out there for the savvy consumer. And I think student groups should focus on educating students about those options, rather than turning to the government.
But one thing I think Dave overlooks is that the college textbook market encourages collusion between the university and professors. For example, call me a cynic, but I’m inclined to believe that many professors choose textbooks based on the book’s associated royalties, rather than perceived academic quality (in economics parlance, it’s a principle/agent problem; see, I can use $2 words, too). I can’t count the number of times that my “required textbooks” have been authored, coauthored, edited, or refereed by the professor teaching the course. Either that, or the author is the professor’s dissertation advisor, faculty co-member, or otherwise within six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon.
In fact, the one piece of the bill Dave supported was the part I was most wary about financial aid for textbooks. That’s like ringing the dinner bell, in my opinion. You mean professors can rack up royalties by passing the bill through financial aid and onto the taxpayers subsidizing higher education? Even the Marxists would enjoy that kind of profit-seeking.
I should also mention the fact that college bookstores only sell the most recent editions of required textbooks. These editions are generally identical to previous editions, but sell at a premium (and, of course, the secondary market doesn’t include royalties … I wonder why colleges only sell new editions …). I actually think including a revision history would be a good idea, from a consumer-information perspective. You’d then know whether the premium price for the most recent edition was worth the cost. Of course, requiring this disclosure would also drive up textbook costs, so it’s kind of a silly provision (and it probably should be handled by the student groups anyway … or just go online, people, geez …).
Anyway, I agree that the bill is a little misguided. But I would not consider the college textbook market to be a true competitive market, either. Kind of like OPEC, but with actual pricing power.