If You Think Custom Textbooks Are Good For Students, Think Again

by Jed Davis

Textbooks costs, which have far outpaced the cost of inflation in the previous decade, are a longstanding problem among college students. The textbook industry has developed increasingly sophisticated ways to extract profit from their products. The result is a new problem for students, who are becoming more incensed due to the increased “customization” of textbooks that are practically impossible to rent or resell.

Some professors are requiring that students use custom textbooks put together by the professor themselves. Well-known textbook publishers are allowing professors the option to select various chapters from a larger textbook. Those books are then published for that individual professor and class. These tailored books can typically only be bought through the campus bookstore, unless specially ordered by local textbook stores.

bookStudents cannot rent them through commonly used online textbook rental companies, such as Chegg.com, or local textbook stores. Although the printed copies make selling and renting books a problem, some companies that publish custom books offer online editions, which are sometimes cheaper.

Because the books are unique to the class and professor, customized books are nearly impossible to rent or resell.

“I don’t like it at all,” Tracy Namadim, sophomore international business major, said. “Once [the course] is over, I have to find someone taking the same class with the same professor to get rid of it.”

According to a list of textbooks from the Sam Houston State University web site, more than seven percent of textbooks that have been assigned to students are either customized or only available from the university. More than seven percent of textbooks that are required for classes at SHSU are custom and over three percent are bundled packages.

Not all students mind the concept of custom textbooks.

“If the bookstore had gotten my book in on time, I’d be happy,” said Samantha Hernandez, a Spanish and radio communications student who’s been waiting two weeks for her book. “I do enjoy the fact that the professor can [put together the book.]”

Sophomore kinesiology major Todd Ryan said he doesn’t mind customized books because the price wasn’t unreasonable. However, he said that isn’t the case for everyone.

“I have heard horror stories of really expensive custom textbooks, which I think is unfair because there is no chance of being able to find [them] cheaper from other sources,” Ryan said.

Custom textbooks aren’t the only problem for students. The “textbook bundling” process also creates problems for students when it comes to renting and reselling.

Textbook bundles are individually wrapped groups of books and accessories that can’t be purchased separately. Currently, more than three percent of textbooks assigned to students are bundled.

After a law passed this May, Texas is forcing publishers to give alternative options to students to buy previously bundled packages in different formats or as separate unbundled items.

The act states publishing companies must inform professors of the costs students will incur at the university’s bookstore, as well as the dates of the previous three editions. Universities also must inform students about book rental and buyback guarantees.

Unfortunately for students, custom textbooks, which are a relatively new product sold by the textbook industry, can be excluded from the law. This means that faculty may not be informed of the costs of these kinds of textbooks to students, nor will students be informed about rental and buyback information about custom textbooks.

The law is effective beginning Fall 2012.


2 Responses to "If You Think Custom Textbooks Are Good For Students, Think Again"

  1. matt   February 6, 2013 at 2:07 pm

    i have to write an english paper on this exact topic. i actually picked it. my school does the custom edition books but they allow us to resell them back to the bookstore or to future students. They used custom edition textbooks as a way to lock in the book for 5 years so they dont have to deal with getting a new edition every bloody semester.

  2. Spencer   September 14, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    Hi Jed,

    Not all custom books are created equal. While I agree that books that are “custom” because there are minor changes to them are not particularly of value to students, services like ours, through which a professor can combine any number of multiple books into one can and do save students money. Although they may be more difficult to sell back, they also cost considerably less up front.

    I encourage you to poke around our website at http://www.academicpub.com and perhaps even put together a mock book to get a sense of the pricing. Feel free to contact me with any questions.


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