Letter to the Editor

The title “Textbook profits benefit publisher, not University” in the February 6 issue of The Murray State News is misleading.  As an Murray State faculty member and a co-author on two different chemistry texts, I would like to point out a few items regarding textbooks and their costs.

Yes, textbook prices have risen a great deal over the last 40 years.  As with any such phenomenon, there are several contributing factors.

The numbers quoted – 21.6 percent university, 77.4 percent publisher – in the article may be correct.  However, a publisher sells a textbook only once. A bookstore, on the other hand, may sell that textbook five or six times.

Consider a $200 chemistry textbook.  Using the figures above, Murray State gets $43, and the publisher gets $157.  Assume the textbook is bought back just two times for $60 each, and resold twice for $150. The publisher has still received $157.  Murray State receives a total of $223, not $43.

However, the bookstore is not entirely to blame.  The book would not be resold if there was not a market for buying and selling used textbooks.  Centuries ago, when I was a freshman, students kept most if not all of their textbooks, apart from a few that were sold privately.  Today, reselling is a business of its own.  The publisher sells fewer new texts, and so they are charging more for those new texts.  It’s an example of undesirable feedback:  with higher prices, students are more motivated to sell their texts; publisher sells even fewer new texts, etc.

It’s worth noting that publishing is a business, and like most businesses, it intends to make money.  In an attempt to cover as much of the market as possible, a publisher may have three or more general chemistry texts.  

Some of these make money, others break even and still others lose.  Like any business, it’s a gamble—and an expensive one, as the publisher may outlay a third of a million dollars or more before a single copy is printed.

(FYI most authors aren’t getting rich either.  My royalties primarily helped my daughters through college and grad school.  Oh, and we bought a brand-new car.  Not a Mercedes … a 2013 Honda Civic. Still paying for it).

There are a number of other factors that enter into the increased cost of textbooks.  Blaming the publisher alone for the expense is disingenuous to say the least.

Letter from Terry McCreary, Professor of Chemistry