My new pet peeve, textbook price threads

I thought college students were supposed to be smart…

Apparently basic economics is no longer taught in high school.

I have seen about 10 of these threads and every one turns into a pile on of:

Books are a profit business, like most others. Publishers have fixed costs that are incurred even when the presses are not running, leases, power bills, staff, etc.

An example:

Basic Fixed costs for publisher XYX $8,000/day
materials costs $0.01 per page

Time to reset presses for a new book 3 hours

Facility can generate 100,000 finished pages of book per hour.

Normal 8 hour workday.

Sample 1
The new Stephen King Novel “Death of a Textbook” hits the printers Its a 100 page book and the order is for 100,000 copies.

Costs $3000 in fixed costs to retool the presses.
100 hours @$1,000/hr in fixed costs to complete the print run.
$100,000 in materials costs (.01 per page)

Total costs (including royalties) $213,000/100,000 copies = $2.13 per book

2.13 + .43 profit/copy to publisher (20%) = $2.56 per copy

Sells book to wholesaler who gets a profit too.

2.56 per copy + wholesaler markup (he has expenses/profit too) .1.02/copy = $3.58 per copy.

Freds books buys books from wholesaler $3.58 + Freds costs/profit $0.1.45 = $5.01 per copy retail price.

Sample 2
Drachillix’s new textbook “Who the fuck would buy this!?!” arrives. Its a 200 page book and the order is for 1,000 copies.

Total costs (including royalties) $17,000 /1,000 copies = $17.00 per book
$17.00 + $3.40 profit to publisher (20%) = $20.40 per copy

Sells book to wholesaler who gets a profit too.

$20.40 per copy + wholesaler markup (he has expenses/profit too) $8.16/copy = $28.56 per copy.

Freds books buys books from wholesaler $28.56/copy + Freds costs/profit $11.42/copy = $39.98 per copy retail price.

Both of these examples asssume a flat royalty of $10,000. This is to demonstrate the difference print run size makes. Textbooks are short run highly perishible items.
If something new comes out in the world of biology that helps to understand some basic concept of cell structure…literally BILLIONS of dollars of textbooks are obsolete overnight. Who pays for this…maybe we should start filing lawsuits against those evil researchers who keep making our textbooks obsolete :rolleyes:

Even ancient history changes every year, not just new events, but new research related to old events. Or is the field of archeology now handled only by librarians in your world.

Even IF a publisher was charging an exorbitant sum for a textbook, another publisher will come out with a comparable text at a lower price. There are hundreds of publishers out ther and every day they fantasize about biting a chunk out of each others market share. They are always looking, and fighting for every extra dollar they can squeeze without losing market share to a competitor. A few cents a copy could make the deciding difference on the sales of hundreds of thousands of copies of a textbook worth millions of dollars.

Want a real bloodbath, take a long hard look at elementary school level textbooks…

Drach, who works in wholesale books…

That’s all understood. What’s NOT understood is why when you go to sell them back they lose approximately 80% of their value or more, and yet when you go to buy a used book you save maybe 10-20%. What’s worse is when the professor requires you to buy his book at a stupendous price and then you never use it. :rolleyes: That should be criminal.

The original fresh off the press price of a brand spanking new textbook may be justifiable. What happens afterward is not.

All these numbers over hard copies? Shit, they can sell them cheaper with PDF’s.

Well, I’m smart, at least. I only go to the university bookstores in cases of extreme emergency. Otherwise I get most of my books from other students, whether they’re on campus or not. That way, they get to sell their book for way more than the bookstore would pay, and I get to buy it for way less than the bookstore charges. Everybody wins.

Also, ditto what Robyn says.

Because bookstores aren’t a charity?

I’m not sure, drach, but most of this doesn’t appear to apply to college texts, where prices are rarely below $70, I should mention.

I’m pretty sure I saw that retailed for $70 at the bookstore.

I don’t know much about biology or history, but I’ve seen different editions of textbooks, and a lot of the time, they are more or less the same. So, um, that’s just not true, or at any rate not relevant most of the time, that this stuff changes.

And even if it were true, how could this significantly affect the cost analysis above? Are there actually many examples of textbooks being produced and then pulled off the shelves because of new research?

Elementary school texts, maybe. All the textbooks I have now, with one exception, were published by Addison-Wellesley, McGraw-Hill, Prentice Hall, or Springer. Sure doesn’t look like thousands to me.

Decidedly not the case with college textbooks, where the professor who chooses the text incurs no cost, and whose decision is unlikely to be influenced by small difference in cost.

Just like the publisher incurs financial risk in printing a book that may not sell, the used book dealer takes a risk that what he pays for may not sell due to new texts, classes being dropped, etc.

A typical resale business has a cost of goods around 20-30 percent. Bulk wholesalers and such have different models that offset small margins with volume and minimum orders. Much more than 30% and you don’t have a solvent business for long. IF 20% of buybacks do not sell Cost of goods goes up by 4-5%. Many businesses don’t even have a 4-5% profit margin to lose.

I would agree here…anybody consider a class action suit?

True true, but the profit a campus bookstore gets as being nothing more than a clearinghouse for used books is over the top, IMHO. I bought my calculus text used at eighty-something dollars, and had the option of selling it to the bookstore for thirty-five dollars so they could re-sell it for eighty again. The amount of profit on used books is typically over 100% of cost to the bookstore, and the only reason why they are able to operate that portion of their business with such a high profit margin is that they are working with students who often are so desperate for money to pay for their eduation that they’re willing to let the bookstore make the massive profit tomorrow for a little guaranteed short-term gain today. Sure, business is business, but when the institution that I’m paying $25,000 a year to to take care of me and educate me (which I can barely afford) is the same one taking advantage of my need to make a profit so blatantly, it really rubs me the wrong way.

And, the real issue

I understand that, but some of the used books I’ve had to buy have been in really lousy shape. If I’m going to pay that much for any book, I expect something in decent condition, that doesn’t look like it’s been used to train a puppy or line a birdcage.


Now, I have to disagree here. First of all, if a new edition will be coming out, then there is no way that the bookstore is going to purchase the book back. Secondly, if a class is somehow dropped…well, most campus bookstores are members of a textbook selling organization (Barnes and Noble, efollett, etc) and can easily move these books onto another store.

I really don’t see all that much risk here…makes used cars look like currency speculation.

Buy the PDF for just $19.95!

Oh yeah…you’ll need a computer with that won’t you. A laptop so when the instructor does ask you to open your books to page 328…

So$19.95 + $899.00 for that nifty Dell laptop.

I’ll just go to the computer lab and print my PDF for $0.15 cents a page.

300 pages…$45 and 35 minutes of your life, Binder $4, hole punching and placing in binder, another 30-40 min of your life you can’t have back. Oh yeah, $19.95 for the PDF.


Damn, thats about what a used book would cost. Try that with a few printers and a couple thousand students…

In my experience, it’s rare that a textbook is required in class. So a CD with a textbook in PDF isn’t entirely unworkable.


Maybe biology and the sciences change, but my mother is going to freaking ACCOUNTING school. Accounting hasn’t changed since the beginning of time.

And yet they put out a new edition of the $200+ textbooks every year. The only changes are that they add a new preface and they change the order of the questions around so that you have to buy a new edition- used books would cause all your homework to be slightly off.

Yeah, it’s what the market can bare etc. etc. But when you are talking about a captive and often broke audience, who are working hard to better their lives and hopefully the world around them by persuing knowledge, it seems kind of wrong to ream them for all their worth.

$45 is absolutely not the amount of profit on the book.

Profit = Revenues - (cost of goods + operating expenses)

This disconnect is what irritates me.

They have a building don’t they??

There are people there to conduct these transactions??

These transactions are highly seasonal, so most of the time these places sit around and do little if anything…yet they still have to pay rent. Still have to be open to try and snag those short term classes.

Mt Physics professor wrote the text and put it on the school’s website, complete with images, links to more information, sample tests, etc.

My textbook costs for that class? $0.00.

The basics…I would agree. The heavy stuff changes all the time, often in response to legal issues like say

Thor Power Tool Company v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue. 1979
Sarbanes Oxley Public Company Accounting Reform and Investor Protection Act 2003?

Both of these decisions made some pretty drastic differences in how inventories are handled accounting wise.

It’s called a monopoly. They have it. So long as students unloading their books find it more convenient to get a little back rather than find a buyer on their own, they’ll use that power to make money. Big surprise there. Organize student resales if you want to save money. I hear the internet is a wonderful tool for selling things.

The basic texts are issued in new editions quite frequently, and I’d say more so than advanced texts(it’s definitely true about the textbooks I’ve seen, but the sample is quite small)

But not a new one. Are you suggesting that publishers incur diseconomies of scale or something? That would be pretty surprising.

Move?? We are talking about individual businesses, making a profit anytime product moves.

They have to be sold, which means some other store has to buy them. The resale network probably gets a cut, the selling store makes a profit, and the recieving store makes a profit…driving the price even higher.

Don’t forget shipping…or do you think thats free…

You are using your personal labor…labor for a publisher is not free. So if you spent a couple hours per book assembling all of this at $10/hr you start looking more like the new book price. My calcs also assume that the CD is just $19.95 rather than say $39.95. The frontloaded costs do not change much for the CD vs. the hardcopy.

The publishers also know that if even a handful of copies of a book got out in PDF, it would be all over the net in a week, cutting into potential sales.