By Kyle J. Barr
The line next to the Ammerman Campus Bookstore stretches back to the end of the hallway in the beginning of the semester. Most Students have been waiting for over an hour. There are students standing there with strollers. Friends stick together sometimes just out of pity for the ones still waiting. The employees of the bookstore dart this way and that filling in the needs of the other students who groan as they take out their wallets to pay for this semesters books.
For years now, students have been finding ways to avoid the lines and the prices. The latest trend of money saving happens to be the most ethically extreme. E-textbooks, online versions of textbooks that are readable in e-book or pdf format, are on the rise in popularity. Along with that comes the rise in the textbook piracy, the act of illegally downloading copies of textbooks for free through online sites.
Next to tuition, for the majority of students, textbooks are the third largest expense for students attending college. According to College Board in their 2013-14 study, in Public Two-Year institutions, the average student spends $1,270 on books and supplies. The price is also similar for public and private four-year institutions.
In 2012, Apple expanded its Ibookstore to include e-textbooks. One of the leading textbook manufacturers McGraw-Hill currently has about 8,000 books with a kindle edition. In most cases around the publishing world, e-books are much cheaper than a regular textbook. But similar to how textbook rental prices range anywhere from close to the original price to over 75 percent off, e-books are even worse.
An e-book of “Campbell Biology 7th Edition” will cost just over $100 on sale from Amazon, marked down by only 60 dollars for something that requires no materials to publish.
According to Ms. Kelly Anne Lynch at the ammerman campus bookstore, less than 10 percent of the full books available to buy have a e-book version. The inclusion of such books is mostly determined by the publisher.
However with the advent of e-textbooks, the piracy networks on the internet has latched onto the high priced textbook market. So far they show no signs of letting go.
Many sites are very explicit for piracy sites. One Reddit thread presented over 70 potential websites to download textbooks. One such site read in its banner “Your source for free textbook and e-book PDFs.” Some sites require knowledge on how to torrent, others offer simple downloads.
Suffolk student Brandon Kay has payed about $500 for textbooks during the current semester, but he still feels that when people pirate textbooks it is unfair for the people who have paid. “I wouldn’t do it,” he said, “Not only is it morally wrong but it’s not legal.”
The reaction to e-book piracy among the major textbook publishers have been lukewarm at best, especially compared to other forms of piracy like music. The biggest problem companies face with e-textbooks is the ease of transferring files online. Many booksellers are allowing students to ‘rent’ e-books. The campus bookstore website displays that most e-books are available for both e-reading apps and sometimes on PDF. When rented, these books will display a registration key that will expire after the allowed time is up. One example of “Introduction to Law and Legal System” textbook ends up costing $46 to rent an e-book for a period of 180 days, comparing to rent a used version of the same textbook for $80.
“If a textbook is more affordable, then buy it,” said student Ed Crawford.He has been economical with his textbook purchases, having only spent 70 dollars this semester because having many classes he didn’t buy for because he believes he “won’t need them.” He feels for some textbooks it is more ethical to pirate simply based on price. He referenced one textbook costing over $120.
According to a study by Dr. James V. Koch in 2006, the price of textbooks increased 186 percent between 1986 and 2004. Koch claimed that one of the reasons the price of textbooks have increased is due to the way that all institutions of higher education have a financial stake in higher textbook prices. The drawback for higher textbook prices for the colleges themselves means that the college has to recognize more student aid.
The bookstore is one of the most popular places on campus to buy textbooks, yet it is also one of the most expensive ways to attain them. The bookstore does not markup most prices, and most often uses the base list price for the specific Textbook. A new edition hardcover copy of “Campbell Biology 7th Edition” list price is $230 while it is $220.75 at the bookstore. Meanwhile the same book is $165 on Amazon.
The Ammerman bookstore is currently run by the Follett group whose contract will be up as of July 14 with an option to renew for another 5 years. Follett operates about 55 stores in New York state alone. In the agreement between SCCC and Follett, SCCC will receive 12 percent of all gross revenue up to $5 million, then 13 percent between $5 million and 10 million, and then 14 percent of revenue over $10 million.