Textbook Pricing is Out of Control

Saturday February 18, 2017

It’s an older story, but here’s one on textbook prices and what we can do about it. The short version is that even your professor thinks the $300 price tag on a textbook is ridiculous and we need better solutions. Some professors are creating custom textbooks or bulk purchasing arrangements. Almost all of UMUC has gone to online learning resources that are freely available. It’s had some downsides, but the upside is there, too.

When I taught public finance for the University of Baltimore, I reviewed four or five textbooks and one was head-and-shoulders above the rest. Of course, it was also the most expensive. It clocked in at $330 in 2015. And that’s untenable, so I sent this email, or a version of it, to the list of registered students once a month for four months before the class began:

I know I had a few of you in PUAD 702 this spring. For those of you who do not know me, I am James Howard and I will be teaching PUAD 701 this fall. I want to take a minute here and talk to you about the textbook. I just posted the textbook, David Hyman’s Public Finance, to the required list. It’s a very good textbook. It’s also $330. And that’s going to be difficult for probably everyone. So I am writing now with some important advice. The important advice is don’t buy it.

There’re a lot of options out there to solve this problem. I think the cheapest I have found is that you can rent the last edition (electronic) from Amazon for about $65. Or you can buy it used for less than $35. And I have no problem with you using the last edition. It’s from 2010 and the world hasn’t changed that drastically. You can also rent the newer edition, if you’re so inclined, for a lot more. In fact, Amazon provides a lot of options. Here’s a link for the 10th Edition rental and purchase:


Barnes and Noble also provides a variety of inexpensive options, but they do cost more than Amazon. Regardless, there’s no reason to drop $330 on this book. If you know of anyone signing up for this class, please feel free to forward this email to them. I will probably send it out one or two more times before the start of class, as well.

You could probably get by with the 9th Edition, too, but I haven’t verified it yet.

Now, that’s pretty blunt and it’s important to understand that, like most subjects, public finance had not changed substantially enough to warrant not using the older textbook.[^text] I am not sure what the publisher, and for that matter, the University, thinks of this strategy, but cutting nearly 90% off the price a textbook can be the make-or-break price for a student. Especially since that is $300 dollars off in a class that cost only $2,377 to attend.[^costs]

The kicker, of course, is that I said this again the first night of class. Most students, not noticing the email, had gone ahead and paid full freight.

care, but that is also still in flux. [^costs]: Tuition and fees for three MPA credits in 2015-2016

Image by wohnai / Flickr.