Custom Textbooks

Recently John Hechinger of The Wall Street Journal reported on a growing trend in the Textbook Industry: Custom Textbooks.  For those unaware let me take some time to explain.  A custom textbook is one that is published specifically for one school and one school only.  Often, these custom texts are published annually or even semi-annually every semester, and they are usually required reading.

According to the WSJ, a typical custom book would be used in a Freshman English Course.  Acme University will require all incoming freshman to enroll in this English Course and purchase the Acme Version of ‘A Writer’s Reference’.  The only difference between the standard Writers Reference by Dana Hacker that most schools use and Acme’s is the cost, the Acme name across the front, and an extra 30 pages detailing Acme U’s writing program.  Oh, and it’s nearly impossible to buy a used version because the notice on the back cover reads “This book may not be bought or sold used.”

For those students who are pinching pennies and relying on their end of semester textbook sales to fund their next semester’s textbook purchases this can be a real problem.  Unlike other textbooks that are no longer being used, custom textbooks cannot be sold to other campuses due to their custom nature.  So, what can you do?

First, when you are purchasing your books be aware of custom texts.  They are fairly easy to spot and have a few tell-tale markers.  They will usually be spiral bound to cut costs, and they will almost always have the University’s name, Department, or Professor’s name across the front cover.  Second, talk to your professors.  Find out what you can about the new custom text, i.e. what makes it custom.  Sometimes the only difference is the front and back cover.  Or, if there is additional text included, you might discover that text is downloadable for free through the University’s website.  Knowing this little bit of information might save you some money.  In addition, it is always in your best interest to introduce yourself to your professors.

By: Dan Russell

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