The Truth About Buying Textbooks
Can you really put a price on knowledge? College and universities seem to think so.
Textbook prices in post-secondary institution are climbing everyday. Ironically students learn to think outside of the box and fight injustices such as unnecessarily high textbook costs. While there are viable reasons for Canadian textbook prices to continue to soar, they conflict with current ethic and socio-cultural teachings that encourage students to take a stand against price inflation.
A Canadian entering post-secondary education can expect to spend between $100 and $1000 on textbooks per year. Typically, math and science students will garner the highest costs, while arts students are paying the least. Regardless of your program, textbook costs are far too high for the quality and quantity of material being provided.
While students would be better to purchase books online, courses often have required materials that demand textbooks unavailable by any source outside of the school’s bookstore. By disabling students from purchasing online, colleges and universities are holding a monopoly on textbook orders, guaranteeing themselves revenue.
Maclean’s magazine recently ran an exposé on the Canadian textbook distribution system that reveals why they are so expensive. Unbeknownst to most, a relatively obscure set of provisions to the Copyright Act (1999) known as “book import regulations” is responsible for raising the cost of textbooks by as much as 15 per cent. Maclean’s explains that it gives exclusive rights to Canadian publishers to monopolize textbook sales to Canadian schools, calling it “a form of cultural protection.”
The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) placed the estimated cost of protecting these publishers through the Copyright Act at approximately $30 million a year. $30 million of Canadian students’ money!
Maclean’s notes that this “private tariff” on books involves no accountability for how publishers use the extra funds. “This money is going to, generally speaking, foreign-owned distributors. They’re collecting it, the author doesn’t get it, the Canadian taxpayer doesn’t get it, and it’s coming out of the pockets of our students.” So there’s the dilemma.
Is it right to support the Copyright Act in its efforts to preserve and protect Canadian writers and publishers? Is it better to purchase our own books from distributors outside of Canada and be more financially stable? Do we even have a choice?
CASA is lobbying federal government for a change to the provisions, and until those happen there are a few things you can do to lessen the financial strain of buying textbooks.
Always look for used books first from a bookstore that’s not officially affiliated with your school, that’s where the best deals can be found. Ask around campus for anyone selling old textbooks and advertise when you’d like to sell yours. If you can read assigned literature right off your computer, do it. Don’t purchase something you can access online option. Be vocal about your textbook price opinions, because awareness on the issues surrounding CASA’s efforts and the Copyright Act may cause the way books are distributed to make as much sense as the priceless material found inside them.