Can anti-trust laws be invoked against the college textbook industry?

It is designed to be as anticompetitive as possible. The publishers divide and conquer, the professors give them what they want, and the Bookstores make new custom packages every semester to kill comparison shopping and resale. It seems like the exact thing antitrust laws were written to prevent.

My son hasn’t bought a textbook in years. He (and a bunch of his fellow students) manage to locate the PDFs of the books and download them. While technically against Da Rules, I really can’t get too outraged over it, given the behavior of the publishers.

What do you mean by this? What laws to you suppose them to be breaking? There’s more than one publisher of college textbooks, and they are competing against one another to try to get professors/departments/colleges to adopt their books.

That’s not to say there aren’t problems with the “college textbook industry,” nor that there shouldn’t be laws to curb the abuses: there are, and I described them in Post #24 of this previous thread about "college bookselling games. But I don’t see how the current issues with college textbooks are “the exact thing antitrust laws were written to prevent.”

That doesn’t count at all. Professors, departments, and colleges are not their customers. Students are. There is usually one book for a class, and students have no choice but to buy it. I think textbooks should be more standardized and commoditized so you don’t buy whatever the professors wants you to buy, you buy a “level 2 calculus book”. There should at least be tiers so that if you don’t want the study guide on a cdrom, you shouldn’t have to pay for it.

That’s not an antitrust issue; that’s just the way classes work.

In some cases that’s a good idea. In some classes it already works that way. But in some cases that’s unworkable (the prof couldn’t give specific reading assignments or homework exercises from the book if everyone has a different book) or would add to the confusion of already-struggling students who need all the help they can get.

I assume (correctly?) that you’re talking about the situation where Professor Jones assigns five textbooks as the course text for Course 101 and all the students in the course have to go acquire those five books; each of the five books is in copyright and therefore can only be purchased from the publishers who publish them.

Those five books may be “textbooks”, in the sense that their whole purpose for existence is to be the assigned text in some college course. On the other hand, not all college professors use such [del]abominations[/del] things. My undergrad course “Intro to Women’s Studies” for example required us to come in with copies of The New OUR BODIES, OURSELVES, Sheila Ruth’s Issues in Feminism, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, Ntozake Shange’s For Coloured Girls Who Have Considered Suicide (When the Rainbow is Enuf), of which only the Sheila Ruth could be considered a “textbook” (and, even then, it was also sold in feminist book stores for outside-of-classroom consumption).

If that seems like a digression, I apologize, but I’m not convinced that it is. When you think in terms of “college professors assign books; they are typically under copyright so yeah of course the students have to buy them from the publishers who publish them”, it sounds like entirely reasonable behavior, not some kind of antitrust violation.

And I feel sorry for anyone who attends a college where the reading material and the presentation thereof leaves you with the impression that “books assigned in college” would ordinarily correspond to “one uniform text for each subject / course# to be used in all colleges by all professors”. Ugh!

Apparently the OP has never heard of the used textbook industry. Or of profs reserving copies of required texts in the library.

Yeah, one copy of a required text for a class of 500 works out so well. Plus, a big part of the textbook games is issuing a “new, revised, improved” edition every year or two, with most of the revision being rearranging the problem sets. A used textbook does no good if you still have to come up with a copy of this year’s edition for the homework.

I had an upper-level course where the required textbook was authored by the professor teaching the course. He vanity-published it and sold it himself.

The whole situation was kind of weird, but the book was excellent, though horribly overpriced.

There were no used textbooks at the school I went to. Every semester, the classes had “custom packages” you could only get at the bookstore. We couldn’t even find the titles until after we paid for the book and opened the package. It consisted of a textbook, and a couple of cheap pamphlets. These packages usually cost around $300, and were worthless the day the semester ended.

IME, professors’ self-published required books are usually pretty cheaply priced, presumably to deflect criticism from students that making you buy one is just a cash grab.

Where was this? This is not typical of the way it works everywhere.

Students should just be able to borrow the books. The bookstore should just be a lending library. Its stupid that the materials required for the class are not freely available to students. It should work like it does in grade school and high school: all books provided.

That’s one possible system, used at some institutions; but it does have its disadvantages.

It wouldnt be free. The unis would pay for them and pass along the cost. Course readers are one way to lessen costs to students.

Very mild highjack - in My Day the publishers had no power anywhere like they have now. The college town I was in during my college career (Rolla, Mo.) had two bookstores, and both of them had whole sections devoted to used bucks that were still used in class. I still have a copy of my “Analytical Geometry” textbook, published in 1929. Has the pricetag in it - $2.95.

I still dig it out and use it on occasion.

I’ll bet I didn’t spend over $30 a semester on textbooks.

What % of college classes are accurately described thusly? To demonstrate an anti-trust action, you have to show that the actors you are charging have some large segment of the market they are controlling. You have a few anecdotes, which doesn’t amount to much.

Who is going to decide what the “level 2 textbook” is? We don’t have a Ministry of Education that is empowered to override individual schools, especially private school, in their choice of textbooks.

But…but…but Analytic Geometry has changed so much since 1929, what with string theory and dark energy and all! No, wait; that’s something else. Analytic Geometry hasn’t changed much since 1650.

During one of my “I’ll learn Math if it kills me” periods I picked up an antique Analytic Geometry text–might’ve been the same one. I opened it up and found that I had been using it daily since I first became a draftsman and, especially, a CAD Guy. Discovering its principles on your own without a text is a lot easier if you have a computer.

So? Then students could at least pay for them with grants, scholarships or loans. My college rented out books to undergrads for $7 per semester hour. And we returned them at the end of the semester. It was great. I went to one of the cheaper schools in the state.

Grad students still had to buy the books, but it was okay because I took fewer classes in grad school, and only a few of those classes actually had assigned textbooks. And those were usually old books you could get cheaply, and they were actually important enough to keep after graduating. Like “The Art of Electronics”.

I was very happy with that system exactly as it was. Unfortunately, the school changed policies after I graduated and now freshman engineering undergrads have to buy their “Art Criticism 101” books for $200 a pop.

That system might not have been legal under copyright law.