Textbook troubles

Marc Brodeur

Each year companies such as Apple and Samsung release new smartphones to the market with the latest and greatest features and technology.

We rush to stores and replace a perfectly functional phone with the latest model as soon as it is released.

The term for this phenomenon is referred to as planned obsolescence.

Planned obsolescence is the “policy of producing consumer goods that rapidly become obsolete and so require replacing, achieved by frequent changes in design, termination of the supply of spare parts, and the use of non-durable materials,” according to the Oxford dictionary.

Just like the smartphone, textbook companies release new editions of their textbooks, rearranging and occasionally changing or updating the content.

“Textbook editions complete their publication cycles after five, six and seven semesters,” wrote Toshiaki Iizuka in his research article “An Empirical Analysis of Planned Obsolescence” … “This is consistent with the popular perception that textbooks revise editions every two to three years.”

Releasing new editions of textbooks when the content of is not outdated, makes students spend more money on new textbooks instead of being able to purchase used copies.

“I found that textbook publishers revise editions more frequently as the market share of used textbooks increases,” according to Iizuka.

With the high price of textbooks, the idea of releasing new editions to restrict the resale of used textbooks costs the student more, generating money for the publishing company.

“Over the past decade, college textbook prices have increased by 82 percent,” according to a survey released by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund. “Sixty-five percent of student consumers have opted out of buying a college textbook due to its high price”.

While updating textbooks is a great way to keep material relevant and up-to-date as new ideas and information are discovered, it is not always necessary.

Sometimes companies update their textbooks every three to four years with very few content changes.

“Once a textbook company releases a new edition, the bookstore cannot order previous editions,” said Allison Connor, professor of art history. “However I do allow my students to use previous editions and I have copies on reserve in the library.”

Using previous editions is a great way to save money if your professor allows it.

However using previous editions is risky because sections and chapters will be in a different order and content may be missing.

Another alternative to purchasing expensive textbooks, while still having the latest edition is to rent it for the semester.

Sites like Amazon allow students to find many of the latest editions of textbooks with very cheap rental prices.

Textbooks that sell for $200 new, occasionally rent for $45 for the entire semester.

If you are someone who likes to keep their textbooks because it relates to your profession or for future reference, renting would not satisfy these needs.

One way you could purchase a textbook and keep it at a cheaper price is to download it as an e-book.

Many textbook companies now offer textbooks in an e-book format and they usually sell at cheaper rates than print editions.

It is great that textbook companies update their content as information, views and ideas change.

The world is always changing so it is understandable that material should be updated, but updates should not be made for the sake of making money.

If companies were to release new editions at more reasonable prices, students would be able to better afford new textbooks and potentially increase sales.