You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Thu, Jul 22, 2010 : 8:07 a.m.

5 things students should know about new federal regulations on the textbook industry

By Juliana Keeping

This story has been changed to reflect the fact textbooks can still be bundled with other products, but publishers must offer these items for sale separately as well.

Bookstores that charge big bucks for a college textbook shrink-wrapped with a CD and workbook could be violating federal law starting this month. Under new provisions, publishers are now required to provide those items for sale separately, too.

Students should notice these and other changes regarding textbooks starting this month under provisions of the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008.

At a press conference Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois answered a few questions about the textbook measure he authored.


Below, find out five things you should know about the provisions.

1. No more exclusive textbook bundles are allowed
“One of the main drivers of textbook costs are the unnecessary extras,” Durbin said, like CDs and workbooks. Professors often don’t realize students have to purchase the extras, and they rarely use them, he said. “The fact is these drive up costs.” Publishers can still bundle items, but have to offer them for sale separately, too.

2. More information will be provided to professors
Publishers now have to give professors the following information: pricing information for texts they choose and prices and information on any other available formats; the last three copyright dates for previous editions; and a summary of exactly how one edition differs from the next.

In the past, some professors have been unaware of what they’re asking students to buy, according to Nicole Allen, a textbook advocate for student-activism group The Student PIRGS. The group has been running a national campaign to make textbooks more affordable.

3. More advance notice will be given for course materials, pricing
Under the new provisions, students should be notified while they register for courses of what books they need and how much those books cost. This should give students more time to shop around from multiple sources, which should lead to savings, Durbin said. And students can choose courses based to some extent on the price of associated course materials.

4. Enforcement of the new federal law is vague
When asked about enforcement, Durbin was vague, calling on students and university communities to look out for and report violations of the provisions. If they find any, “Call your senator and tell them about it,” he said.

5. The federal government is involved to help drive down costs
“The cost of a college education is of concern not only to students and families, but to our nation,” Durbin said. “If there is a way to find an approach that’s more economical, it means less cost to government and ultimately less student debt.”

Students, how much do you spend on books and course material each semester, and how do you pay for it? Professors, will the provisions change the way you choose course materials? Is your college, university or local book store complying with the new law? Respond in the comments section below or e-mail

Juliana Keeping is a higher education reporter for Reach her at or 734-623-2528. Follow Juliana Keeping on Twitter



Sun, Jul 25, 2010 : 3:02 p.m.

ERMG, I'm sorry, but the cost of college textbooks is the least of the major problems in higher education today, and it's a little disingenuous on your part to suggest that the solution to lowering the cost of higher education starts with reducing textbook costs. Textbooks represent a mere fraction of the overall cost of a post-secondary education. Overcharging for textbooks is a nuisance and an annoyance, for sure. Professors and publishers who make modest changes and reissue an entire edition are nothing short of thieves; bookstore chains that refuse to buy back books (because there IS a secondary market for these texts) can get put into the same pile, as far as I'm concerned. However, there are low-cost alternatives to buying expensive new and used textbooks. Try:

Rod Johnson

Sat, Jul 24, 2010 : 10:39 a.m.

It's not the authors that are doing the price gouging. When you sign a book contract, part of the deal is that you will create a certain number of new/revised pages every so many years (usually 3), so that the publisher can bring out a new edition. If you're not willing to participate in this scam, the publisher will find another accomplice, or simply bring in a new author to contribute a new chapter. This is a key part of the publishers' business model. While textbook authors no doubt appreciate the royalties, I don't know any personally that have really gotten rich off textbooks. Paul Samuelson did, I guess. But as with music, only the rock stars really do that--in most cases it's the publisher/record label that reaps the big money. Then there's academic journal publishing--unpaid authors, unpaid or poorly-paid editorial staff, hundreds of titles, enormous subscription fees to libraries (thousands of dollars per year). Revenues are huge and it's almost pure profit, but it's destroying university library systems. Basically, academic publishers are parasites and it's time for them to go.


Sat, Jul 24, 2010 : 2:37 a.m.

Thanks Obama!!


Fri, Jul 23, 2010 : 8:05 p.m.

Well I just finished two years of college and I think one time a textbook came bundled with a CD, which I needed for the class. I never bought a book from Amazon, but was told several times it is less expensive. I actually found some textbooks on the shelf at the EMU library, a good place to check before buying. I had heard of this bill. I hope some committee investigated why textbooks are so expensive. I think there is some funny business going on with price gouging by the academics who write them. Especially with the "later editions" that cost more and more for just about the same info. One day buying texts, I met a young fella who was working in the bookstore at EMU. He was a student, very polite, very nice, and very helpful. I made a comment about the prices and wallet shock and he told me during his time at EMU he was never able to afford textbooks. He told me he went to every class, took notes, and borrowed a text when he could. I will never forget that young man and if I am ever in a place like Sen Durbin here I am going to do a lot more for students that this. There needs to be a limit on how much required textbooks can cost. Its gotten quite ridiculous.


Fri, Jul 23, 2010 : 9:10 a.m.

Well at least the government is doing something! Seems to me this industry has been raking in abnormally large profits for an absurd amount of time! Education is expensive enough so I'm glad to see some attention given to this. I've been resenting the "edition" stuff for years - how many changes to basic calculus take place every year anyway?


Fri, Jul 23, 2010 : 7:13 a.m.

The textbook sale/buy-back/resale rip-off has been going on seemingly forever. 5. "The federal government is involved to help drive down costs." This statement is almost funny, almost. Having received an undergraduate degree in 1977 - I see no difference in what I pay for my sons' texts today (allowing for inflation). The sell-back rate, even for barely used books in excellent shape is absurd and insulting. The selling and buying back and reselling of course-required books is a for profit industry and always has been. I purchased a new text for a fall class at EMU bookstore and when I tried to sell it back at term end, I was told that the instructor wasn't teaching the class in winter term so they wouldn't buy it. I am skeptical that these new provisions will benefit anyone buying text/course books.

Juliana Keeping

Thu, Jul 22, 2010 : 12:41 p.m.

Hey EyeHeartA2, I stopped by Ulrich's and Michigan Book & Supply yesterday. I learned something new: their corporate owner is the Nebraska Book Company. According to its website, it operates 250 bookstores nationwide. I'm looking for a comment from them for a future story.


Thu, Jul 22, 2010 : 10:41 a.m.

Higher education in general is at least as big of a racket as the textbook industry. That said, it's trivial for professors to self-publish textbooks if they want to. Amazon, Lulu, etc will print anything you want on modern digital presses and ship them directly to students. There might even be a local publisher that has such a press for all I know. The presses don't care if you need one book or a thousand. Amazing machines.


Thu, Jul 22, 2010 : 10:31 a.m.

The bundling was started also to fight the online availability of the titles at much cheaper rates. Too many $$ were being lost to the new market. Anything to dig the bucks out of student's pockets. The authors mostly professors lost dollars also, they have no incentive to object to keeping the royalties coming. Greed rules, education is big business - screw you, this is America! But: The trend is leaning to the text material eventually all being downloaded as e-text to Kindles, Ipads etc. Publishers are worried that they, the middleman, are going to be cut out of the picture entirely so they will be the first in that market and fiddle e-text as they do paper texts now to inflate the price. However if the college text authors get a bit smarter they will start publishing themselves or thru small digitizing companies to maximize their own profits. Great opportunity to start a new business! Also once the digitized materials appear they will be much easier to break out of any jail they try to put it in. They might price many students straight to pirate careers unless kept reasonable.


Thu, Jul 22, 2010 : 9:52 a.m.

I've had numerous classes where I've purchased the "required" texts for the class, which usually includes a course pack. More times than not, the text isn't even used in class or at home for that matter, and when I sell it back I don't get half of what I paid. In fact, one time I bought a book from a well known textbook store near EMU but when I went to sell it back they wouldn't accept it because it didn't have the CD that was supposed to come with it. The thing is, they sold me the book without the CD. When I explained it to them they basically said "Sorry. We're supposed to check to make sure the CD is intact but we still can't buy it back. Company policy." Needless to say I never bought another book from them again.

Rod Johnson

Thu, Jul 22, 2010 : 8:48 a.m.

The enforcement angle is pretty lame, but the textbook industry (and academic publishing in general) is a giant scam. I simply don't use textbooks in my classes any more unless I absolutely have to.


Thu, Jul 22, 2010 : 8:11 a.m.

Yes, college textbooks are expensive, but Senator Durbin & Co., are well advised to start addressing the real problems with higher education - costs that rise at twice the rate of inflation; students who need real financial aid and can't get any; private student loans that charge credit-card interest rates and graduates who are in debt up to their elbows and can't find jobs.


Thu, Jul 22, 2010 : 8:01 a.m.

Fortunately, my company pays for my books, which I just paid $436 for three new books. One of the books comes with an access code, which was not offered separately. I do not see bundles changing, especially if enforcement is the consumer "calling their senator." No one is going to call their senator and the publishers know it. A big issue for students is that they are trapped into buying new books, instead of used, when they come with a CD or access code because the CD/access code are expired in the used book. It also hurts the student when the publishers change two words in the book, release a new edition and students cannot purchase a used book because of the new edition, forcing them to purchase new.

Alex Ackley

Thu, Jul 22, 2010 : 7:54 a.m.

So let me get this is now illegal to bundle things together in the textbook industry.... so now instead of $150 (example) for a book with CD that gives access to online content... we're going to have to pay $140 for a book and probably $30 for the CD. I've NEVER seen a case where breaking a set of things causes a lowering in overall price.


Thu, Jul 22, 2010 : 7:44 a.m.

Everytime the Federal Government gets involved prices go up! Thanks Senator (Policeman) Dick Turbin! Call your senator and tell them about it," What kind of enforcemnt is this?