Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Forget the Oil Companies, Investigate the Textbook Scam

From the WSJ:

Congress is looking at the textbook issue as well. Last month, the House passed legislation that includes a provision, by Oregon Democrat David Wu, with many of the steps being discussed by states. It takes aim at bundling and calls on colleges and universities to develop book-renting, lending and swap policies.

Legislative efforts to make textbooks more affordable are meeting resistance from publishers and some professors.

"We understand the desire, but it is very difficult to legislate how media will be prepared, designed and disseminated in a free-enterprise system," said Bruce Hildebrand, executive director for higher education for the Association for American Publishers, the New York organization that represents educational, professional and scholarly publishers nationwide. He said states are barred from taking steps that would interfere with interstate commerce and that book publishers are protected by the First Amendment.

While I am as much of a free marketer as they come, the problem with this, is that college textbooks do not operate in a "free-enterprise system". Students don't get to shop around for the best textbook bargain they can find, the professors tell them which they need for the class (often written by the professor himself) and they are forced to buy it in order to complete their coursework. The fact that I can buy a copy of Freakonomics at the local Barnes and Noble for $20, but an equivalent economics texbook at the University Book Store will run over $100, is an indication that there is monopoly pricing at work.