Revenge against textbook publishers

FLINT – I spent more than $400 on books the other day.

“Wow,” you’re thinking, “400 bucks, you must really like to read.”

I do. But the books weren’t for me. They were for Sam, who is starting his sophomore year at Central Michigan University.

“Oh,” you’re thinking, “then $400 is really terrible, you poor guy.”

Thank you, but I’m not poor and I’m not sad. In fact, I’m thrilled to have paid $400 for a bunch of ink and paper. Thrilled, thrilled, thrilled.

“Ah,” you’re thinking, “so you’ve been hitting the sauce again, I see.”

No, but I’m still happy. Four hundred dollars for one semester of school texts may sound like a lot, and it is when you consider that when I went to college you could take three or four classes for $400. (Admittedly, I’m older than used dirt.)

But it’s a darn sight better that the $600 I spent one semester last year. So to me $400 feels like I just got a huge discount – whoo-hoo, whee-hee! I may take the savings and go buy better slats for the barrel I’ll be wearing before too long if something doesn’t change.

“Um, all rightey-roo then,” you’re thinking, “somebody call the guys with the butterfly nets. He’s finally gone off his nut.”

Thanks for the concern, but I’m fine. I’m just a little cheesed at the cost of higher education these days. Everyone gripes about the cost of tuition and housing. And it IS crazy expensive. A year at CMU – tuition and housing – costs around $20,000, give or take. That’s a down payment on a house. And it’s just one year!

But the cost of books is the final insult, the coup de grace, the Grinch taking the very last crumb before squeezing up the chimney.

Why are publishers doing this to us?

The answer, as it turns out, is as simple as human nature: Because they can.

“Publishers have been able to drive up textbook prices because students ‘have to buy whatever textbook they’ve been assigned,'” Nicole Allen, a program director for the Scholarly Publishing Academic Resources Coalition, an alliance of academic libraries told USA Today recently.

The article in which she was quoted said students have had enough. With the average cost of classroom materials now topping $650 a year, many – 31 percent, in fact – are photocopying or scanning chapters from friends’ books, up from 21 percent last year. Others – 34 percent – are simply downloading course content from an “unauthorized website,” up from 20 percent in 2010.

In other words, they’re stealing it.

Can you blame them? I can’t. While I think that stealing someone’s intellectual property – a song, a book, an idea – is the same as stealing his chicken, power drill or car, I’m also not about to feel sorry for publishers. They’re getting what they deserve.

They’re ripping people off and in turn people are now returning the favor.

It’s called revenge.

I read about it in a book.

EDITOR’S NOTE – Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. Write to Andrew Heller at or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.