The Price of Knowledge, a Balancing Act Between New and Used Textbooks

TOPIC: #4 Money
TITLE: The price of knowledge, a Balancing Act Between New and Used Textbooks
Comparison of bookstore and online pricing:
Humboldt State University Bookstore. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Sep 2011. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Sep 2011.
Breakdown of textbook dollar image:
“Where the New Textbook Dollar Goes.” San Diego State University Bookstore. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Sep 2011.
RELATION: Cultural Anthro (Robbins) p.62 (Capital Conversion- knowledge as a commodity); 70(Market externalization- real cost of used textbooks)
Each semester, I am confronted with a new list of expensive textbooks to purchase. Although recently I find most of them to be resources to hang onto and not sell back, I remember when it was a different scenario. For many of my general education classes, I ran into the issue of attempting to resell my books and being told that I could not; there was already another version being used for the upcoming semester. From my point of view this was annoying, inconvenient and disheartening; I was now stuck with books that were useless to me at the time (I was a dance major, and had no desire to reread books after I passed a course). Why did this keep occurring? What is the point of revising and discontinuing material (sometimes only switching the location of chapters, or adding a few footnotes)? In looking at this issue from another perspective, rather than the college student, I am beginning to grasp the rationale of the phenomena.

My first question is what is the need for the price excessiveness in textbooks (or education in general) to begin with? Knowledge is a commodity that really has no real monetary value; however humans find intrinsic worth in attaining it. This capital conversion (Robbins 62) comes in the form of the educational system and books; conveniently accessible conglomerations of knowledge individuals are willing to purchase. Due to the virtue humans attribute, those educated individuals are considered of high status, and are entrusted with the capability of conveying knowledge to the masses, through their work. But is the price of a textbook really a reflection of the worth of the individual author who produced it? Not exactly, there are many other individuals involved in the publishing and production of books that are also reflected in the price. (This analysis is actually more of the opposite of market externalities, as discussed in the Robbins Cultural Anthro text, because the cost of these “unseen” entities is reflected in the price). The San Diego State University bookstore website has an excellent example of the breakdown for each dollar spent on textbooks. (I realize the breakdown may be different for other institutions, but the same basic idea).

What is the point, as “starving college students” to provide to these companies and corporations who are making so much more than the author or bookstores? I myself have taken to the online used book services (for example, where I have been able to find my textbooks at a greater discount than a campus store. For example, I was able to find the Robbins Cultural Anthro textbook and Spradley’s Conformity and Conflict for a good amount less than in any bookstore (I could go into specific prices, in keeping with social mystification of money matters, and out of respect to the bookstore, I will keep the numbers to myself). When a book is resold through one of these sources, most of the price goes to the selling source, completely cutting out the author and publisher’s income. This is more of an example of market externalities, because the cost is not a reflection of the work that has gone into the book (I can generally find most of my textbooks for half off or more). While the money may have been an accurate reflection in the first new sale, it is now recirculating with no relation to any company. If this recirculation of used text becomes too constant (if everyone kept reusing the same version), it is a cost to the author, publishers and bookstores. Here we find the source of revisions; a tactic designed to render used books useless and force that income back into business. While it is completely beneficial to me as a student, to have more to spend on housing and tuition, there is now less value on the author to convey their knowledge.
Edit: 12/4/11
Trolling the internet for more anthropology blogs, and I came across this entry. It is about Open Access and E-publishing of books.
I like the questions posed:
“So if the books were cheaper, would they be disseminated and read more? Would more copies end up being distributed? Maybe! Should academics be concerned about the dissemination of their work? Is it okay for people to try and make money off your research at the expense of researchers having easy access to it?”
I think this is an interesting conundrum for social scientists to consider..

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