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New Calif. Bill Restricts Textbook Prices

This story was written by Udeitha Srimushnam, Daily Bruin
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed State Assembly Bill 1548 into law Friday, creating guidelines for publishing companies, university faculty members and university bookstores to take measures against the rising cost of college text books.

The new law places specific restrictions on the three main parties involved in getting textbooks to students: publishing companies, faculty and bookstores, said State Assemblyman Jose Solorio, the bill's author.

Publishing companies often withhold critical information about textbooks, such as cost and content, when it comes to marketing new materials to university faculty, said Sarah Dobjensky, chair of the UCLA chapter of CALPIRG.

Faculty often do not know the exact prices of the textbooks they assign for classes and can have little knowledge of the types of changes made in new editions of textbooks, Dobjensky said.

As a result, faculty may assign expensive new textbooks with little substantiative changes to the text.

"They aren't able to make informed decisions," Dobjensky said.

The new law will require publishing companies to disclose wholesale textbook prices, any new editions soon to be published and expected changes in new editions to university faculty, Solorio said.

That way, faculty can decide if they need to assign new textbooks instead of using old editions, Dobjensky said.

Publishing companies will be required to disclose the price differences between bundled texts, which come with multimedia supplements but can be significantly more expensive, and unbundled texts upon faculty request.

The law also requires publishers to indicate any changes to new editions of textbooks on the books themselves so students can decide if they really need the new edition, Solorio said.

Schwarzenegger said in a press release that he signed AB 1548 because it not only targeted publishing companies but the faculty and bookstores responsible for high textbook prices as well.

Under the new law, faculty are encouraged to take prices into account when choosing course materials and are prohibited from receiving any sort of special gifts from publishing companies.

The law also requires that bookstores make public their price markups.

Like other retail stores, bookstores mark up wholesale prices before making books available to the public, Dobjensky said, though under the new bill bookstores will need to be more transparent about such practices.

"As bookstores increase or decrease (prices) they're doing it in a vacuum and it should be done in a public way to hold them accountable," Solorio said.

Schwarzenegger passed AB 1548 but failed to pass SB 832, a similar bill that placed less of an emphasis on faculty and bookstore decisions.

SB 832 would have required publishing companies to disclose cost and edition information during every sales transaction with faculty.

Dobjensky said she is disappointed that Schwarzenegger failed to pass SB 832.

The new law may not motivate faculty to keep the students' interests in mind, said Dobjensky, since it is the faculty that assigns the textbooks but the students who must buy them.

If not forced to disclose cost information during every sales pitch, publishers are likely to take advantage of students and faculty, Dobjensky said.

Oiyan Poon, president of the University of California Student's Association, said neither bill was complete on its own.

Poon said she believes AB 1548 is comprehensive in the way it deals with the multiple parties responsible for expensive textbooks but is disappointed that publishers are only required to release cost information when specifically requested to do so by faculty members.

Poon said while she believes AB 1548 maybe be a watered down version of SB 832, it is a step in the right direction

"I agree ... that it's a bigger issue of the market and going after publishers but I also agree that we need to look at the full process. This doesn't have to be the end, students can look at ways to make it better," she said.

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