|A student is looking for textbooks in the Dongguk University campus bookstore.|
|/Photograph by Yang In-hyuck|
The overly expensive university textbooks is one of the most discussed issues related to the
controversy on the “price of education.” Not surprisingly, movements to reduce prices of
texbooks used in universities have been trending over two decades as the prices showed a
rapid and constant increase, internationally. Consequently, the students, as well as
universities and private firms, decided to fight back in diverse methods. New, creative
solutions are being practiced, but still have long ways to go as they face inevitable limitations.
Textbooks have been an economic burden for every student
According to the U.S.A. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average prices of university
textbooks in America has shown an increase of 258 percent since 1998. In contrast, the
prices of recreational books increased by 14 percent. According to Ethan Senack, the federal
Higher Education Advocate, the reason why textbooks are so expensive is because of the
constant changes in educational courses of higher education. Every time a certain major
shifts learning directions, publishing companies are justified in their actions to announce a
new edition, every year, each with higher prices.
He also mentioned how textbook prices are underestimated as a financial problem.
“Textbook prices appear small in comparison with the larger costs of tuition or room and
board, they are often overlooked, and addressing this problem is often deprioritized,” he
Such realities obviously bring contempt from the students, so much to the point that some
decided to use methods prohibited from the federal law. Since 2006, university students
from the U.S.A., Europe, and East Asia have been illegally ordering textbooks made in India.
With their cheap labor costs, they are paper bound, written in only black ink and cost as
much as ten percent of that of American. Although many countries ban such acts, due to the
easy access and difficulties in regulation, shipping textbooks from India is still well used by
“It is funny how some people think that this is some kind of defiance from a small number
of unethical students,” commented Ernan Tan, a student of the Lakeside University in
Malaysia.“Well it is not. We, students, order books made on India as a group, according to
Efforts to cut down the prices are being spread
Despite the Indian source being welcomed, there are students who try to stay economical
within the legal boundaries. “Legamus!” is an online audio book sharing site made by
students. Its users read and record texts that are used in university lectures, which are then
posted and shared by others in diverse languages such as English, German, French,
Latin, and so on. The global administrator of “Legamus!” who goes by the ID “Victor”
mentioned that the best feature of the site is its convenience. “Readers of Legamus are all
volunteers. All you need is a computer, an internet connection, and a microphone.”
Efforts from the schools and private companies are prominent. Open Textbook Network
(OTN), an online educational resource network is run and used by 200 universities in
America. Any registered member can download pages of textbooks for free, which saves
up to 1.5 million dollars of students’ pockets every year. Park Sangpil, an international
student at Utah Flight School and a user of the network, said, “The amount of financial
support I have received from OTN is huge. Without OTN, there would have been so many
limits to spending here in America as an international student.”
Amazon has also stepped into the front to achieve a mutually beneficial deal with the
schools and their students. Since 2015, 29 universities sealed partnerships with Amazon, and
their students order every textbook they need online from the Amazon.com website. This,
according to the user reviews, can be 30 percent cheaper when bought or rented, and 70
percent cheaper than buying offline in the campus. “Students are looking for ways to save
money on textbooks, which is why we have long offered great prices on both new and used
textbooks,” said Ripley MacDonald, Director of Textbooks at Amazon.
Korea is not an exception to such trending phenomenon. “Bookdeal” is a Korean Android
application which services second handed textbook sales. “We began the launch around the
start of the second semester, which makes us fairly new, like most other startups dealing with
university textbooks in Korea,” stated Ellie Kim, the marketing manager of Bookdeal.
“However, the numbers of the textbook startups are rising, meaning that there are a lot of
students concerned about the prices of textbooks, and that equal number of efforts is also
The lack of infrastructure and skewed perceptions must be overcome
In a whole, students around the globe are using second hand, cyber networks and even
illegal methods to save up their money. While it is true that using illegal methods is wrong, it
also shows how much economic stress the students are carrying on their shoulders. Ethan
Senack articulated that if methods such as the opened resource networks and the usage
second hands were to become a mainstream source for the sake of the students, there are
two main barriers to overcome.
Firstly, supportive infrastructures for the developers of the systems are required. Right now,
in countries such as the U.S.A. and Korea, nearly all infrastructures for creation and design of
educational materials are centralized in a few major publishing companies. As a result, higher
education is dominated by closed license, high cost, rigid materials. “While there has been
some progress toward supporting localized content development, it has not been enough to
turn the cultural lethargy in education on its head,” he said. Ellie Kim also mentioned that the
lack of human resources is Bookdeal’s main problem.
More importantly, skewed perceptions about using the alternative systems must be erased.
Years of dominance by profit maximizing publishers have created false measures of quality
on university textbooks. “Traditional textbooks face no standardized test of efficacy, or
student success. Instead, publishers rely on fancy covers, high profile authors, and cultivated
systems of reviewers to make their profit.”
“If we are ever to solve the threat of high textbook prices, we must fully realize the
potential of the alternative sources to revolutionize educational content, and invest
accordingly,” he concluded.
Yang In-hyuck email@example.com
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