Professors Demand Lower Textbook Prices

The student branch of Wisconsin’s Public Interest Research Group announced Wednesday that over 500 mathematics professors from 125 campuses signed a letter asking international publishing company Thomson Learning, Inc. to change its textbook pricing practices.

University of Wisconsin freshman Angela Biscardi, coordinator of WisPIRG’s Affordable Textbooks Campaign, read a short statement regarding the call to action.

“Thomson refuses to listen to students,” Biscardi said, “hopefully they will listen to faculty.”

The faculty letter, dated April 6, is addressed to the CEO of Thomson Learning, Inc. and “expresses concern” that “the cost of college textbooks has risen considerably in the last few years.”

Specifically, the letter asks Thomson to make changes in its publishing practices of a popular calculus textbook, “Calculus: Early Transcendentals.” UW-Madison Assistant Professor of mathematics and biochemistry Julie Mitchell and mathematics Professor Joel Robbin both signed the letter.

“Changing the edition every two or three years is unwarranted,” Robbin said.

The motive behind new editions, according to Robbin, is profit because it cuts into the used textbook market and keeps prices high.

Also, Robbin said that changing textbooks is not only expensive for students but “a pain in the neck” for professors who have to continually revise their class syllabi.

WisPIRG raised concerns about the calculus textbook in a report released earlier this year, which criticized Thomson for releasing a new edition of the textbook in 2003, only three years after the previous edition was released and that the few changes made to the book did not warrant a new edition.

The letter asked the company to commit to four changes: establish a more transparent and fair pricing scheme, disclose products and pricing in sales material, release new editions of textbooks only when there has been significant new content in the field and make versions of textbooks available online.

Robin said online textbooks are the wave of the future and he will be teaching a graduate course using an online text this fall. The text he is using is free to students.

Although not all online textbooks will be free, WisPIRG says they will be cheaper than print versions because paper, printing and editorial costs account for an average of 32.3 cents of every dollar of a textbook’s cost.

Faris Rashid, co-chair of Associated Students of Madison’s Legislative Affairs Committee, said the effort to reduce textbook prices is an important part of making education more affordable.

He said ASM formed a committee comprised of faculty, administration and students who are looking at ways to lower textbook prices and expect to release a report later this year.