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Exorbitant textbook prices lead students to turn to piracy

By Kayle Van’t Klooster, March 26 2019 —

Here’s a truth that every student knows: Textbooks are expensive, sometimes prohibitively so. 

Many students need to pick which textbooks they’ll cough up the cash for at the beginning of the semester because buying each one just isn’t feasible. Textbook prices have skyrocketed over the past decade, further adding to the financial burden that students face. It’s no wonder that students take any opportunity they can to avoid paying the full price. Usually, this means scouring Facebook groups or Bound and Copied for cheaper used copies. If that fails, they turn to piracy. 

The University of Calgary sent an email to students last month addressing violations of the school’s copyright policy. But there’s a reason students resort to piracy.

Nothing stops textbook publishers from endlessly inflating prices, knowing full well that students have little choice but to buy them. On top of that, some textbooks are bundled with an access code for online assignments. This forces students to pay ridiculous prices just for the privilege of doing their homework, even if the textbook itself isn’t even used. There aren’t any rules that prevent this, so students are left footing the bill.

Most students take a look at the textbooks they’ve been assigned at the beginning of the semester and guess which ones they should actually buy, regardless of whether they’re ‘required’ or not. Some professors assign textbooks that aren’t worth buying since the class underutilizes or never use them at all. A class can also have multiple books assigned but only use some for one assignment, so you only crack it open once or twice. You can always sell the book after the course, but it’s unlikely the resale value will cover what you spent to purchase it.

It’s no wonder that many students avoid buying textbooks altogether. Unless some significant changes are made, piracy will continue to be a go-to solution for many students. If the university is serious about getting people to stop downloading pirated PDFs of their textbooks, they need to provide more options for students. Even something as simple as putting more textbooks on reserve at the TFDL — and emphasizing that they’re there to be used — would help tremendously. Or they could offer more options to rent textbooks at an affordable price, rather than having to buy a book that you won’t look at again after the course is over. Likewise, professors need to realize just how difficult it is to obtain all the books they assign. They ought to think twice before throwing three or four books onto their syllabus and consider whether it’s really necessary to include them all. 

University is expensive enough. It would be nice to get a break every now and again. It’s always a huge relief to see that there’s an online version of a textbook on the library’s site or a copy in the library’s reserve readings because that’s just one less expense. There are solutions and programs that could be put into place to get students to stop pirating. Sending a threatening email to students about copyright infringement is not one of them. The only way to end piracy is to give students a fairly priced alternative.

Kayle Van’t Klooster is a fourth-year International Relations Major at the University of Calgary. He writes a column for the Gauntlet about Canadian national and international affairs called “For Your Consideration.”

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