Culture & Criticism Since 2003
During the past several months, many an article has hit the mainstream press rebuking textbook companies for charging too much and for issuing needless editions. Some students and professors believe that there is no point to such new editions, except as a means to generate additional revenue for publishers. However, after careful examination of myriad titles in many scientific (and general academic) disciplines, I must heartily disagree.
The reasons for my opposition to the media status quo is based upon the fact that research in the medical sciences is constantly advancing therapies and the way that illness and concepts of treatment are approached (this is also true in the fields of law, paralegal study, psychology and civic engineering). Keep in mind that once research studies are completed, authors and publishers must immediately revise current texts in order to incorporate new information and bring students and teachers up-to-date.
Yes, these books are massively expensive. Yes, they are economically burdensome for many students to purchase. But remember that they are also expensive to produce: many of the medical texts I saw were over 500 pages in length and included hundreds of color plates. And all this requires significant dollars to create. Add to this the extra costs of editing and binding these tomes and you will begin to understand the factors at work which drive prices upward. Unfortunately, it is an expensive proposition going to college today. And that expense only increases when a student decides to embark on a career in medicine. However, the whole point behind medical school is to learn about the body’s systems thoroughly and to investigate the most current research data available. Thus the need for these constantly evolving editions.
But is there a more efficient way of providing this data to the student? Perhaps. Perhaps publishers might begin to examine the production of small supplemental editions that might augment existing texts as a way to mitigate some of the cost to the student. Still, consumers of this material must also accept the fact that the internet has changed the dynamics of the way books are bought and sold. Accordingly, publishers in all genres are finding it more difficult to cut a profit during the last decade — hamstrung by the economics of trying to cover costs without completely pricing their audience out of the market. Basically, publishers can only drop prices so far before the margin falls into the negative.
Obviously, these are tough times. Both individuals and corporations alike are struggling as the country teeters on the edge of a full scale depression. Yet, publishers can only be blamed for the price of a college education so much. The bottom line is that it costs money to build these books, and this is compounded by the fact that scientific data changes by the day. With each of these factors intersecting and interlinking at the same time, it is not likely that the situation will get better soon.