Consumer groups and textbook publishers have been tussling for some time now over whether textbook prices are rising too high and too fast. If either side thought that a federal study being released Tuesday would prove its case unequivocally, it was wrong. The study by the Government Accountability Office, which was requested last year by U.S. Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.), offers some evidence, as student groups have asserted, that textbook prices have risen sharply — at twice the rate of inflation over the past two decades. But the study by the GAO also supports arguments by publishers that the increases have been driven in large part by “the increased investment publishers have made in new products to enhance instruction and learning.” And in many other cases, the study reports arguments made by one side or the other,but does not come down squarely in agreement with either.
Wu requested the GAO study, “College Textbooks: Enhanced Offerings Appear to Drive Recent Price Increases,” in response to concerns that rising book prices were making it more difficult for some students, especially those from low-income families, to afford college. In the last year or two, groups like the State Public Interest Research Groups’ Higher Education Project have issued a steady barrage of reports as part of a campaign to pressure publishers to lower their prices, contending among other things that textbook prices in the United States are significantly higher than comparable texts in other countries. Publishers, meanwhile, have responded by questioning the consumer groups’ use of data and conclusions.
The GAO study, which the agency will release later today, is unlikely to resolve this war of words and numbers. It takes as its starting point that the issue of textbook prices matters because the “cost of postsecondary attendance, including components such as tuition and textbooks, is of national importance because escalating costs can have negative effects on access and affordability,” noting that American families spent more than $6 billion on new and used textbooks in the 2003-4 academic year. Over all, the GAO report finds that college textbook prices nearly tripled between 1986 and 2004, rising 186 percent, or an average of 6 percent a year, during that time. Tuition and fees, meanwhile, rose 7 percent a year and prices for all goods have risen an average of 3 percent a year in that span.
From: Inside Higher Ed 8/16/05 http://insidehighered.com/news/2005/08/16/textbooks
Read the full report, online: http://www.gao.gov/docsearch/abstract.php?rptno=GAO-05-806
Posted by P. Kaufman at August 16, 2005 8:16 AM