Campus Life

Revenge of the Textbook Publishers

You may have seen my blog post about renting college textbooks. In it, I cite some information about some options for college students to save some much needed cash by not having to buy those outrageously overpriced tomes from college bookstores. Those options include renting texts and buying "previously owned" (used) books.

Well, in the spirit of devious counterpoint, textbook publishers have decided to exact revenge on lowly students and their parents' budgets. In an article posted on one of my favorite sites,, the feline emerges from the constraining apparatus, so to speak:

Textbooks Publishers Using "Packets" To Fight Used Book Market

Students who prefer to shop for textbooks online are encountering a hitch in their efforts. University and College courses are increasingly using bundled versions of textbooks that come with their own ISBN number. School book stores sell the packets as a single item, because their contents don't come itemized.

Reader Kristin Blick, a student at Hudson Valley Community College (HVCC) in Troy, NY., writes:

"I usually save a huge amount of money on my books by buying them used online, renting them or borrowing from fellow students, but this semester it's become impossible because of these "textbook packets" the school is demanding I get. I have no way of knowing what the packet is made up of, and they won't sell me individual pieces."

Don't blame school book stores, though. Blame textbook publishers first. Often, they'll offer popular textbooks only as part of larger packets, concealing the specific titles in the packets shipped to stores. To make matters even more difficult, the packets may be customized for a given school.

Still, school faculty members share at least some of the blame. Stephen Stegman, the manager of HVCC's book store, told Consumerist that the recently passed Higher Education Act requires publishers to provide a list of packet contents to faculty members who select them.

Academic faculty being only human, they will often neglect to adequately publish the information. Thus, the only way for students to figure out what courses actually require is to buy a packet and open it up.

Our advice? Contact the faculty member responsible for selecting course materials, which will differ and different schools. If a class is a core requirement in the English department, for example, contact the English department and ask for an itemized list of the textbook packet contents, then publicize the hell out of it.

Textbook packets have been around for several years now. If any of you readers have discovered a better workaround, such as a web forum with itemized list of popular packet contents, please mention it in the comments and we'll update this post.


The information in this article irritated me. The very last thing we need in today's ridiculously overpriced higher education arena is a cadre of self-righteous, greedy publishers picking the pockets of struggling students. And don't get me started on faculty follies. So, what can we, as parents and students, do?

Once again, to the rescue: The Executive Email Carpet Bomb. Here's the scoop:

Here's a classic tactic for rattling the corporate monkey tree to make sure your complaint gets shoved under the nose of someone with decision-making powers. Let's call it the "EECB," or Executive Email Carpet Bomb...

1. Exhaust normal channels

Have you called customer service? Asked for a supervisor? Hung up and tried again? Give regular customer service a chance to fix the problem before you go nuclear.

2. Write a really good complaint letter.

Be clear, concise, polite, and professional. State exactly what you want. See this post for complaint letter writing tips. Pitch your issue in a way that affects their bottom line. Spellcheck and include contact information.

3. Determine the corporate email address format.

Look through their website or Google for press releases. Examine the PR flack's email address. What's the format? Is it Figure it out and write it down.

4. Compile a list of the company's top executives

This is often available on the company website, under sections like "corporate officers" or "corporate governance." You can also look the company up on Google Finance and look under management, although this list tends to only be partial.

5. Combine the names from step 4 with the format from step 3 to create an email list

6. Send your complaint to the list from step 5.

7. Sit back and wait.

Reader Marc has launched EECBs to great effect. He writes, "In every instance that I've put together a big list of email addresses and sent it out, I've received some sort of immediate reply and eventual resolution."


Wouldn't it be sweet to see tens of thousands of EECBs fly into the inboxes of college textbook publishers' CEOs across the land, like fleets of laser-guided bombs? Don't laugh. To paraphrase English philosopher Edmund Burke, all that is necessary for the triumph of college textbook publishers is that cash-strapped students and parents do nothing! So . . .


. . . bombs away!

Don't forget to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.