Print Textbooks Still More Economical Than E-Books

Kent Anderson over at the Society for Scholarly Publishing’s “The Scholarly Kitchen” blog wrote an interesting post today about students’ use of print textbooks versus e-books.

The post highlights a press release by the National Association of College Stores that said that 74% of students prefer print textbooks over e-books, and that the death of the print textbook has been “highly exaggerated.”

Anderson responds that the National Association of College Stores’ survey doesn’t actually show a preference of one format over another, but instead presents a simple economics problem. Whether or not students find e-books easier to use than print textbooks, the high prices of both print textbooks and e-books, along with the ability to resell used print textbooks, make print textbooks the obvious economical choice. Anderson provides an example:

Would I buy a $52 e-book when I can buy a $115 print book that has, as its low offer, a used price of $84? With print, I can essentially “rent” a textbook for a semester for $31, an economic edge of $21 over the e-book — and with no upfront cost of an e-reader.

Anderson makes a great point. Most students view textbooks as a necessary evil and look for the most affordable option. Many times, textbooks aren’t even important for success in a class, and simply reviewing class Powerpoint slides online is a more than sufficient study method.

The only flaw with purchasing a print textbook with the intention to resell is that increasingly more authors are putting out new versions of print textbooks every year, rendering older versions obsolete for class use. If students sense that this behavior becomes more commonplace, or if publishers include more useful tools with e-books, we may see a shift to e-books from print textbooks. For now, I’m sticking with used print textbooks.

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Three Faulty Arguments for MA Question 1

Election day is here, and a trip through New Hampshire this past weekend — and, of course, an obligatory NH State Liquor Store run —  reminded me about Massachusetts Question 1. If this measure passes, the 6.25% sales tax that was imposed on alcohol in 2009 will be repealed. This morning I voted “no” on question 1.

After talking to a few friends, I seem to be in the minority (among students) on this issue. Here are three arguments they make for a “yes” vote on question 1, and my responses:

1. We already pay an excise tax on alcohol; we shouldn’t be double taxed.

Yes, we do already pay an excise tax on alcohol, but it was set in 1975 and not adjusted for inflation, so it’s incredibly low. For beer, we pay only 11 cents per gallon, according to The Tax Foundation. That’s only $1.70 for that keg of Natty Light at the frat party you don’t remember going to last weekend. In “tax-free” New Hampshire, the excise tax on beer — at 30 cents per gallon — is almost triple that of Massachusetts.

2. The price of booze at [any liquor store near campus] is already too expensive. We shouldn’t have to pay sales tax on top of that.

Repealing the sales tax on alcohol in Massachusetts would make the price of booze slightly cheaper for college students, but I think that many of my peers think that we would be paying the pre-tax sticker prices for alcohol after the sales tax is repealed. Even though we technically “pay” the sales tax in a transaction, liquor stores feel some burden of the sales tax because of a concept called price elasticity, and they charge lower prices than they would if there were no sales tax. If question 1 is passed, the pre-tax prices of all alcohol will go up. Students will still pay a premium on alcohol because of the huge demand for booze on college campuses, and because it’s inconvenient for students without cars to travel away from campus to a more affordable package store.

3. I shouldn’t have to pay extra to support alcoholics.

First, the tax doesn’t only support alcoholics. It produces over $100 million to support a wide range of behavioral health problems across the state. Second, it’s irresponsible to take away funding for drug and alcohol abuse programs while making alcohol cheaper and more accessible. As countless people have argued before me, alcohol isn’t a necessity like food or clothing — both of which receive tax exemptions — and it shouldn’t have a special exclusion.

Did you vote today? What are your thoughts on Massachusetts Question 1?

Avoiding the Freshman 15? Put Down the Plastic

Paying with cash instead of credit could mean a smaller waistline, says a report released earlier this month by three New York-based economists in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Manoj Thomas (Cornell University), Kalpesh Kaushik Desai (SUNY Binghamton), and Satheeshkumar Seenivasan (SUNY Buffalo) conducted four independent experiments that found a positive correlation between credit card use and impulsive food buying habits. The study, titled “How Credit Card Payments Increase Unhealthy Food Purchases: Visceral Regulation of Vices,” says that the reduced “pain of payment” associated with paying with credit can increase impusive and unhealthy choices at the checkout counter.

“Consumers experience less pain when they use less vivid and emotionally more inert modes of payment [like credit cards] and succumb to their impulsive urges,” the authors say. “Some consumers might be able to curb their impulsive urges by paying in cash.”

But will college students forgo simpler transactions and credit card rewards to avoid putting on the pounds? A study released in August by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston says that because of merchant fees and credit card rewards, the average cash-using household implicitly pays $149 to card-using households every year. Plus, credit cards appeal to busy, technology-savvy students.

What do you think? Will you leave your credit card at home to keep the Ben & Jerry’s out of your shopping cart?