To buy or not to buy: The textbook dilemma


With the new semester starting up, student bank accounts across the country brace for impact thanks to the textbooks they will have to buy. It’s no secret that prices for any education past high school is fairly high, in some provinces more so than others. Statistics Canada published a study saying that Canadian postsecondary students spend roughly $1.3 billion annually on tuition and books alone. But while students do fork over what often feels like an arm and a leg, there is a decent amount of debate whether prices should be that high and if students use their textbooks to begin with.


“Well, first of all I find textbooks very overpriced” said Matthew McKenzie, a Social Science major at John Abbott College. “When me buying seven books (size varying) comes to a total of $520 or so it’s pretty ridiculous.”


With the prices of textbooks being what they are, the next logical question is why textbooks cost as much as they do. Rates for enrolment in postsecondary education have been on the decline since 1997, and so the institutions must turn to other means to turn a profit. In addition, Canadian law forces textbooks to be well built, making them more expensive, and allows a 15 per cent price hike from foreign publishing companies. This builds on that wariness over whether or not it’s worth the investment and how much it will be used in class.


“I rarely used any of the books,” said Harry Mackay, a Police Foundations student at Conestoga College. “The most useful books I had were the ones I needed for the open book exams and the texts that I used for reference like the Canadian Criminal Code and the Ontario Highway Traffic Act.”


“If the teacher is going to give lectures based entirely on the content of the book,” said Mackay, “then they become far less useful as long as you take good notes. More integration would be great if it actually added information beyond what I took in my notes, but for some classes I’m sure they could be scrapped.”


While there is definitely a benefit to doing your assigned readings for each and every class every week, it is sometimes difficult to keep all your courses balanced. And regardless of subject, having the required textbook is a benefit. With the Internet the way it is, students have found ways to get access to the overpriced literature for cheaper price (for the sake of my own skin I won’t mention any by name, but a quick Google search can go a long way).


In some cases professors themselves take a step back and see the absurdity in prices; the entirety of the BF190 course reading are available on the Project Gutenberg website. The professors gave links to the assigned readings on the site, but the drawback was they were the entirety of the readings. The textbook available in the bookstore featured the refined and pertinent sections of said readings.


While “to buy or not to buy” is still the question that wracks the minds of students when they take that first look at the price tag of a textbook, the final decision continues to lie on the student until something in this overpriced system changes.

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