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Professors are against the high prices as well!
I will be the first to tell you that textbooks are too expensive! I have two degrees and paid a fortune for books. That said, I am also a published textbook author (college level) and I can tell you that it is not the author who is making the money in most cases! They (the publishing execs) have told me that the large high school orders are what make authors "rich" because of the sheer numbers, not college, especially niche areas.
I have what is considered a good royalty deal that I split with my co-author, but, after two intense years of researching, writing, rewriting, editing, indexing, selecting photos/graphics, you name it (you can’t believe how much work goes into a textbook and how much time and effort), I have yet to make even $5000 on the thing although it is used in many colleges!
I loved the process and I enjoy knowing that students are using the book, but the cost has to do with all of the expenses of printing, ancillaries such as CD-roms, enormous time and effort of many editors/indexers/proofreaders/writers/artists and more, then there is also the cost of marketing the books/paying sales reps/etc. Sure there is profit on the part of the publishers, but they also invest quite a bit. Creating a textbook is much more involved than I could have ever imagined.
In researching this answer, I have read some disturbing articles about claims of publishers intentionally lowering prices to avoid paying authors their full royalty. Most authors have a fine-print clause that says they receive less than their stated percentage if the book is not sold at a certain price or above. Shady business…?
Also, many books are now "bundled" with CD-roms, workbooks, and other ancillaries, which raises the total package price a lot.
Now there is a huge second-hand market that really cuts into profit for authors and publishers. In a way, I think this may also drive up prices because the publishers just don’t sell as many books as they used to and have to compensate by raising prices. On the other hand, some large publishers are seeing book sales increasing by huge percentages so something’s fishy. Many print new editions frequently which forces students to buy new instead of used. Is it really necessary to update books that often? Depends on the field.
If you want to cut college expenses, visit: Ebay, ecampus.com, amazon.com, half.com and numerous other websites where you can find virtually any book at a fraction of the retail price. Most college bookstores sell used books and some colleges have online exchange programs.
I agree that college books could be reused, but in college many students (hopefully, lots!) take more notes in their books, highlighting interesting concepts, noting questions to ask the professor, etc. Also, since you are specializing in a particular field, you hang onto many of your favorite texts as references.