Textbooks. Blah.

Education & Technology

When I found out that I only needed three books for this spring semester, there was almost a party in my house. For the past three semesters, my books have come to prices above the $500 dollar mark. This is not the total price of all the books from each semester, not at all. This is the price for just one class, most of the time. Every time I buy books, I think to myself…”this university is already charging me thousands of dollars a year for an education and now they’re making me pay more for books that I’ll hardly even use?” Turns out, it’s not my university causing me all this suffering after all.   

Indeed the suffering is caused by a company with whom they contract called “efollet.”

efollet “is the leading provider of books and educational materials to K-12 and higher education communities across North America.” This means that they pretty much control the whole textbook distribution market, which would be fine if they really did what they advertised. Apparently, “the efollett.com bookstore network delivers affordable options and services to students across all levels of education.” Affordable? Then why does a book on the first half of American History cost me a fortune? Also, the “e” in efollet must not stand for electronic, because every semester I’m almost always forced to buy all paper books.

1 tree = 20,000 Dollars!!!

To further illustrate the problems with the current textbook distribution system, I’ll lay out a hypothetical situation for you: Let’s say for every hypothetical tree that is cut down, 100 hypothetical books can be hypothetically printed and published. I don’t know exactly how much it costs to cut down a hypothetical tree, but I assume the cost isn’t over 1,000 hypothetical dollars. These books would hypothetically cost around 200 dollars. Do the math; the company makes 20,000 dollars just by killing one tree. And that is far from hypothetical.

It’s not like electronic textbooks don’t exist. One of my first textbooks that I used in college was an e-book. The text was easier to read than my other books. The pictures were better quality. I could jump hundreds of pages with a click of a button. And best of all, it was cheaper. Not as cheap as I would have expected for a book that didn’t need any trees to be cut down, people to box it and ship it, trucks to carry it, etc., but definitely cheaper. After this amazing experience, I looked for more e-books for my next semester. No such luck. I tried again the beginning of my sophomore year, but still had to use brand new wasteful books.

After a period of long disappointment at last arose a flicker of hope!!

I saw a glimmer of hope arising in the distance when rumors were spreading that Apple might be releasing e-books. There wasn’t a real consensus on what was happening. They could have released an app for reading educational materials. They could have potentially just added higher education textbooks to their array of e-books. I could just imagine the possibilities. All students would be required to have an iPad, and then we could buy all our books electronically for about 100 bucks a piece. Sounds great, right? Apple did release an app, but unfortunately, it was nothing like I was expecting. The electronic textbook portion of iBooks launched with exactly 8 books. No surprise that none of these were on my syllabi for the semester.

But wait! There was more to Apple’s announcement! Welcome to the new and improved iTunes University!

At iTunes University, you can do a variety of things. Or rather, you can download a variety of courses. There are a couple of e-books available, but nothing of any real use except to a few students. Downloading entire courses leaves you massive amounts of video lectures, fake assignments, and reading material. The courses range from Intermediate Algebra to Culinary Skills. This has the potential to be cool for people who want to learn something extra or need some additional help with a course: people who have been out of school for a couple of years, didn’t get a chance to take a class that they wanted to, and so now can take the class by staring at their iPhone.

For a poor and busy college student, iTunes U is complete disappointment. No cheap textbooks, no real incentive to learn anything new. After 5 hours in class, a few hours on homework, and then time at my job, the last thing that is on my mind is turning on my iPhone to watch a 40 minute video about composition and the elements of design. Perhaps Apple will one day come to realize what higher education students really want and need. When that day comes, I will gladly buy an iPad. I hope that day is sooner than later.

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