Students rent, share, steal or skip textbooks

Students are finding ways to save money on textbooks, or do without, reports the The Chronicle of Higher Education, which surveyed students at Foothill College in Silicon Valley (I live down the street) and Berkeley.

Ask Johnny Lazzarini whether he ever skips buying textbooks, and the Foothill College student laughs.

“When I look at a syllabus and it says, ‘required text,’ I think in my head, Oh, that’s adorable,” says Mr. Lazzarini, 21, a biology major at this Silicon Valley community college.

Mr. Lazzarini, who waits tables 35 hours a week, has a hard enough time paying for rent and groceries. Textbooks cost him about $500 each quarter. So before he buys one, he looks up the class on Rate My Professors. If previous students say the professor rarely uses a book, he skips it.

One out of every three seniors—and one in four freshmen—often don’t buy required materials because of their price, according to the National Survey of Student Engagement.

Twenty-one percent of students admitted using a pirate site to get textbooks in 2012, according the Book Industry Study Group.

Some students go online to buy cheap international editions. (My husband stopped writing engineering textbooks because the very low-cost Indian editions are resold illegally in the U.S., cutting his royalties. He can’t make enough money to justify his time.)

Most college book stores rent textbooks. So do Amazon and competitors like BookRenter and CampusBookRentals, reports the Chronicle.

 The result: When students enter the Foothill campus bookstore, they may be confronted by five different prices for a single book. Take Approaching Democracy. The political-science textbook sells for $62 (e-book), $154 (new print book), $115.50 (used print book), $107.80 (new print rental), and $59.30 (used rental).

Using Amazon for rentals and used books, Sarah Schueler spent only $80 for books last quarter at Foothill. New, they’d have cost about $400.

E-books usually are cheaper, but most college students prefer print textbooks.

Using an online book for one class, Eduardo C. Albano, 18, found he had to spend twice as much time to read it.

“For some reason, my brain could not get the information as clearly reading the electronic screen as it could marking up the pages and reading it firsthand,” he says.

Providing free e-books is turning out to be difficult because of “money pressures, slow adoption by professors, and quality concerns,” reports the Chronicle.

High textbook costs make it harder for Foothill students to complete their degrees.

The price of textbooks is more than double tuition at Foothill, says Marie Efira, 63, who studies anthropology. She’d take more classes if she could afford the books.

Beth Stolyarchuk, a Marine Corps veteran and radiology student, supports her family on the GI Bill. “I have to go and spend $400 for a couple of books—it’s absolutely outrageous. It’s unacceptable that I can’t buy groceries for two weeks because I had to pay for books.” She borrowed from her in-laws to pay for food.