Sep 22, 2009

Textbooks – What a Racket!

At one particular parochial school, parents are required to buy textbooks for their children. New textbooks run about $75 from the school office, but Amazon usually has used ones for about one-fourth of that price.

One mom searched Amazon for a 3-year old Math textbook for her son. There weren’t any available for less than $60 - used! I suppose the seller thought it was a case of supply and demand. If we think you MUST have this book, you’ll pay what we ask.

Smart Mom said “Oh, yeah?”

She searched a little more and found Glencoe’s Mathematics: Applications and Concepts - Course 1 in the Florida edition instead of the Alabama. They look the same on the cover except the tiny state outline in the corner. Why would Florida children be required to learn different math concepts than Alabama’s children? For a 75% discount, it was worth the risk of finding out.

She ordered the Florida book.

When it arrived, she compared it to an Alabama version, and found a few differences. The operative word is “few.” At the beginning of the book, there are pages thanking that state’s “contributors,” some pages on preparing for the state’s achievement test, and some pages aligning the concepts in the book with the respective state’s standards. That’s it.

By the time you reach page 1, there is no difference!

Glencoe publishes identical books for two states (or maybe 50 for all we know) with a slightly different cover and a dozen pages of state-specific information before Chapter One ever begins. From page 1 to page 679, the student will be on the same page as his peers, with a book that, bought used, will help his family buy groceries for another week.

What a racket.

Moral of the story: don’t let the school tell you what you have to have, unless they are willing to buy it for you. Don’t get sucked into paying too much for textbooks. The publishers are laughing all the way to the bank. Mom saving $45 for an extra 5 minutes of research proved a good use of her time.

Be smart. Shop around.

On what purchase are you going to compare prices today?

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