Just as senior citizens have saved money by buying prescription drugs from outside the United States, a bare necessity of college student’s lives is also cheaper when imported. American-made textbooks cost less when ordered from overseas, according to price comparisons on the Internet.

U.S. publishers are selling many college textbooks in countries such as France and the United Kingdom for little more than half the price. The practice has been occurring for years, but with the advent of the Internet, more and more Americans have been able to gain access to the cheaper books.

Mark Brown, textbook manager at Michigan Book & Supply, said price disparities exist because students in other countries cannot afford to pay higher prices. He cited marketing ploys and differences in printing costs as other reasons for the price differentials between countries.

While publishers argue that American students should not be able to buy their books for less money abroad, The New York Times reported a 1998 Supreme Court ruling paved the way for the re-importation of American goods sold cheaply. Before this ruling, Americans could not import products without violating copyright laws.

Prices of books on foreign bookstores’ websites are much lower than they are here. For example, “Fundamentals Of Physics” is listed for $90 on amazon.co.uk while the same book sells for $133 on amazon.com.

In addition to buying books from the Internet, some University students said they choose to buy their textbooks from bookstores in Asian countries such as India and Singapore.

Engineering freshman Dinkar Jain said while he understands why textbook companies charge more domestically, they should drop those prices and “give up their extensive profit margins, especially on course packs,” he said.

“The University should set up bookstores so that products are sold at cost. Cheaper textbooks will help students financially and thus reduce the amount of aid the University has to provide for students,” Jain said.

But LSA freshman Megan Smith said students should not buy abroad. “Supporting the textbook company is in good spirits of corporate America, and it’s worth paying the extra $10 for textbooks.”

Managers at campus bookstores did not see overseas sales as impacting their business greatly.

Steven Smith, textbook purchasing manager at Shaman Drum Bookshop, said he was “alarmed and fascinated at the differences in prices.”

He said publishers dictate prices and the bookstores themselves are not responsible for keeping prices high.

Brown also said textbook companies dictate the prices, and added that profit margins are very low on textbooks.

He added that sometimes the books sold abroad sport a plain cover instead of a colorful one and contains pages printed in black and white instead of in color.

Textbook costs here are also higher because the faculty often recommends that students use newer, more expensive editions instead of reusing old versions, Brown said. He blamed the textbook companies for having a double standard.

Since many of them are based in other cities with Big Ten universities, he thought of the pricing as “a conspiracy by other schools to bring us down.”

More recently, rising costs of college tuition and textbooks have been a huge concern for many politicians. Recent statistics show that one in five students cannot afford to buy required college textbooks.

There have been various attempts at tackling the increasing costs of textbooks. In 2002, then-Michigan State Sen. Leon Stille (R-Spring Lake) tried unsuccessfully to abolish sales taxes on textbooks.

Last week, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) proposed legislation that would make $1,000 of a student’s textbook costs tax deductible each year.

Schumer said in a written statement he hoped that by making this deductible, students would be able to buy the required textbooks.




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