In a few hours, I will -- like many Milwaukeeans -- begin yet another semester of college.
While, as a 30-year-old, I will have very little in common with a majority of my classmates, we will more-than-likely have something in common when we sit down for the first class of the semester:
We all have been royally jobbed by textbook publishers.
For my five classes this year, by total book bill is $327.24. As I tried to put things in perspective, that's a little more than 65 percent of my monthly rent. And for what? In a year-and-a-half, I've taken very little from the book that less-than-reputable sources like Wikipedia provide for free.
The wordiness of the text and implied pompousness of the authors -- obviously, people who couldn't cut it as a writer or a professional in the real world -- make these books nothing more than an incredibly expensive paperweight.
What's more unsettling is, as my professors hand out the semester's syllabus and discuss the next few weeks, at least one will say "we probably won't use the book very much" and another will tell us to "take what you read with a grain of salt."
If that's the case, why are they requiring us to shell out for these texts?
Quite simply, it's a racket. The schools cash in by charging outrageous sums and then, at semester's end, give back a mere fraction of the original cost. (Last semester, I bought a book that never got used, returned it in its original wrapping, and received 17 percent of what I originally paid).
Sure, there are alternatives. Half.com, Textbooks.com and a host of other Web sites provide a means for buyers and sellers to get books at a reduced price, but it's still ridiculous to think that college textbooks, according to The New York Times, are a $4 billion-a-year industry.
I can handle high gas prices, because ultimately, I get something for my money. Same goes for the price of milk and everything else that is jacked up in the slumping economy. But I cannot, for the life of me, find any justification for a $100 book on the art of public speaking.
I haven't even made it onto campus yet and I'm already in a foul mood. It's going to be a great semester.