It’s the first week back at LMU and everyone is running around trying to find the cheapest place to buy books before their professors start noticing. Four months abroad made me momentarily forget what book companies in the States are allowed to get away with. I present to you the latest scam I have discovered–which I am sure is not new to many schools: textbooks sold in tandem with an online “workbook.” As always, it’s difficult to tell who exactly is to blame: the publisher, the school, the department, or the professor.

I went to my German II class earlier this week and was informed I would need a book and a workbook. No problem, I thought. I ballparked the package around $80 online. You’ll see I was pretty close.


Digital Textbook Extortion

Enter a lovely service called Quia Books. They offer online course workbooks. How environmentally conscious. They are trying to save paper. Except the cost of the workbook does not decrease. It’s still $43.25 for a glorified PDF.

So, for the time being, let’s think of high textbook prices as a “necessary evil” of the American education system. The biggest problem with Quia is that it locks me into their system. The only way I could get a key for the course, since their search functions are–what’s this?–limited, was to get one from my professor. There’s no ISBN search. And it’s a surprise that she actually provided her “Quia Course Code” on the syllabus; she’s of no obligation to do so. I imagine many professors don’t even know what the hell this alphanumeric “Quia Course Code” is or what it does.

I’m lucky. I can buy my textbook on Half.com for $42.99 and the online workbook for a mere $43.25 for a grand total of:


$86.24

My ballpark was pretty close.

The Campus Bookstore to the Rescue!

But what if my professor hadn’t given me the course code? Thanks be to the deities, because my campus bookstore will come to the rescue.

They offer the textbook and a code for the workbook for a mere


$176.88

That’s a $90.64 difference for those of you without calculator watches.

So the semi-free market purchase of Half.com/Quia is $90.64 less than the school bookstore price. Quia has a fixed price and a product that is only available through them. The Half.com part is the online free market link in this mess. I realize you pay a premium for having the on-campus resource, but there’s a point when the premium becomes absurd. Especially when the bookstore prevents you from copying down the ISBN numbers of your books for some price checking.

Here’s the big point: If you were taking my class with a bundled online workbook and the professor didn’t give you the course code, you would be forced to buy the book and workbook from the bookstore. No Half.com. No Amazon Associates. No AbeBooks.

And if you think you’ll just open the book and see what the course code is on the inside of the book, think again. Most books with online workbooks are sealed to prevent theft of the workbook code (the thing that you redeem to get your PDF). Once unsealed, these books can’t be returned.

The Problem and the Solution

There are two problems here:


  1. People can’t decide what an online workbook is worth. It can only be obtained through one site for a fixed price. No free market in sight.

  2. In the case of a technologically-ignorant professor, the student will be forced to buy the book from the bookstore, being charged one inflated price and one fixed price. While it is possible to find the book through the Quia Books search, the search fields are limited and the prices–again–are fixed.

The solution is pretty simple: Stop doing this. This system preys upon the ignorance and tight schedules of professors and leaves the students to pick up the inflated cost.

Ask the Readers

Does your campus institute a similar system? Have you ever had a professor refuse to give you the course code? Let us know in some comments.

Related posts from fellow bloggers: