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Maryland PIRG
Deborah Weiner

Maryland college students heading back to school are getting a tough lesson in economics, with the rising cost of college textbooks adding a burden after room and board are paid for.

It's leading to a war of words between publishers and consumer groups, the I-Team's Deborah Weiner reported. Click here to see the video on WBAL's website.

A recent report to Congress found that textbook prices have nearly tripled in the last 20 years, by an average of about 6 percent per year, according to Weiner.Consumer advocates in Maryland found that the average student spends about $900 a year on books for college.

The Maryland Public Interest Research Group is speaking out on the issue."Students are really suffering from the high price of textbooks, and it's largely due to predatory practices on the part of publishers," said the group's Johanna Neumann.

Those practices, according to the group, include unnecessary new editions of textbooks, making it impossible for a student to a buy a cheaper, used book, and the bundling of materials that include pricey supplements to the textbook that a professor has required.

But according to the Association of American Publishers, consumer advocates like Maryland PIRG are misrepresenting the facts. The association says that, on average, new editions are printed every four years, Weiner reported. In terms of bundling, the association says materials are delivered as ordered by faculty. It also claims that if students shop around, they will find that the publishers' own Web sites can offer the lowest prices on books. Finally, Weiner reported, the association claims that prices haven’t risen to the extent that some claim. Weiner found one case where an organic chemistry book and its extras cost more than $300. Often times, book prices come as a surprise to faculty as well.

Last session, Maryland lawmakers approved a measure that is intended to control costs. It requires public institutions in the state to do things like release a list of required materials early enough that students can hunt around for the best deal.

"I don't think it's going to translate into lower prices," said University of Maryland Baltimore County professor Phil Sokolove. "It's going to translate into more innovative ways to duck higher prices."

Maryland PIRG said the wave of the future may be sites like Flatworld Knowledge, where many books are free or chapters can be downloaded at affordable prices.

To stay afloat, college bookstores are stocking more used books than ever and buying books back from students at the end of each semester, Weiner reported.

Next year, a new federal law takes effect that is geared to make college textbooks more affordable. It is considered the first real crucial reform on the issue. Under President Obama's American Recovery and Investment Act, you may qualify for a tax credit on this year's textbook cots. And just this week, some publishers have begun offering rented textbooks on their Web sites.

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