ANNAPOLIS – Jahantab Siddiqui spent more money on textbooks during his freshman year than some spend on a monthly car loan.
The 20-year-old University of Maryland government and politics major paid $600 for a semester’s worth of books at the campus bookstore three years ago, and estimates his bill for this semester is close to $700.
But Siddiqui believes he could have purchase his books for half of university’s bookstore prices if he’d had more information to enable him to look for lower prices.
“Essentially what’s going on is a book that the student could go out and buy for $25, $30 or $40 bucks is being sold on campus for upwards of $100 bucks with all these unnecessary materials that they’re never going to use for their courses,” Siddiqui told a committee of the House of Delegates on Thursday.
A proposal before the House Appropriations Committee would force bookstores at state colleges to publish more information about course textbooks, which would essentially give students the information they need to shop around for the best price.
Specifically, stores would be required to list textbook information, including the book’s unique international standard book number – ISBN, as soon as a book has been selected for a course. Without the identification number, students have to browse store shelves for ISBNs before checking prices at other stores.
“I could’ve saved $300 having the university put the ISBN, and the publication date and the edition number of that book online,” Siddiqui said.
The proposal also bans faculty from receiving kickbacks from publishers for selecting a particular book for a course, but allows them to receive payments for books that contain their written work.
“I’m attempting to find a methodology whereby students attending universities in the state of Maryland can obtain the necessary resources to get their college education at a reasonable cost,” said Delegate Marvin E. Holmes, Jr., D-Prince George’s, the proposal’s sole sponsor. “It will allow the students the opportunity to acquire textbooks at a lower cost.”
Some college bookstore managers said laws that would require stores to publish ISBNs would not have a significant impact on sales. The Washington College campus bookstore used to publish textbook ISBNs on its Website before Barnes and Nobel took over operation of the store five months ago. The store manager said she has not seen a noticeable difference in sales since removing ISBNs from the store’s Website.
“I don’t think there’s going to be a difference,” said Carol Van Veen, the textbook manager and the store’s acting director. “Students are going to buy online anyway and some are going to buy here for the convenience, and some are going to be required to buy from us no matter what.”
Textbook prices tripled between 1986 and 2004, and outpaced the rate of inflation, according to a report published by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). Experts point to textbook “bundling” as the culprit behind the skyrocketing prices.
Bundles are supplemental materials, CD-ROMs, study guides or access codes for companion website, packaged with a textbook.
A bundled biology textbook on the University of Maryland campus bookstore website cost $134.65 for a new book, and $101.00 used. A bundled new copy on Amazon.com cost the same price, but shoppers can buy the book used for as little as $32.
Washington College does not carry many bundles, Van Veen said. Only 5 to 10 percent of the store’s textbook inventory consists of bundles.
“I don’t think faculty is that impressed with the bundling,” Van Veen said. And the multiple identification numbers for each product included in the bundles complicates the process and confuses the students, she added.
Most students want used books, which are less expensive, but there’s not enough to go around, according to the GAO report. Used books only account for 25 to 30 percent of the textbook market.
In addition to potential decreases in college bookstore revenues, the state could experience a slight decrease in sales tax revenue if more students decide to shop online for books.
“I’m not happy to take monies from institutions,” Holmes said. “All I’m asking for is to give the students the opportunity to have a lesser outlay of their funds to obtain their books.”