California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill designed to reduce the cost of college textbooks. The bill SB1539 was introduced by State Senator Ellen Corbett to combat the often criticized practice of textbook publishers putting out a new edition of a book every two to four years.
A 2011 study of 1,905 undergraduates on 13 campuses, performed by the non-partisan U.S. Public Interest Research Group, found that 80% of the respondents were either unable to purchase a used textbook or unable to resell a textbook because a publisher had released a new edition of the book.
A similar report by a consortium of Student Public Interest Research Groups found that, despite publisher claims that new editions are driven by faculty demand, 76% of faculty surveyed said new editions are justified “half the time or less” and 40% said the books are “rarely” or “never” justified.
The practice of issuing new editions of a book without making substantial changes to the content has drawn criticism from faculty as well as students with Harvard economics chair James K. Stock describing the practice as “another tool used by publishers and textbook authors to maintain their revenue stream.”
To address the practice of a new edition of books being almost identical to previous editions, California’s new law requires textbook publishers to explain to professors and textbook buyers what changes have been made to the book, whether they need the new book, can use a previous edition or another book. The law also requires publishers to disclose any other products they offer on the same topic.
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