Cheaper college books available online

A little knowledge may or may not be a dangerous thing – but it can certainly be expensive, as college students find out when they buy their textbooks. According to the College Board, students spend an average of more than $800 a year on books.

In response to students’ complaints about these high prices, Pearson Education Inc., a large textbook publisher based in Upper Saddle River, is offering cheaper alternatives to the $100, 800-page hardcover textbook.

The choices include Internet editions of the book, abridged softcovers, and editions that allow a student to buy only the chapters the professor actually assigns.

The Internet choice, called SafariX WebBooks, allows students to read a textbook, print pages, take notes and add bookmarks. It costs half the price of buying the book.

More than 300 titles are available on SafariX, including “Biology: A Guide to the Natural World” by David Krogh ($45 for 150 days’ access) and “The Psychology of Gender” by Vicki S. Helgeson ($35.34 for 150 days’ access).

The “alternate print editions” are priced 25 percent to 33 percent less than hardcover textbooks. They include paperback and abridged editions, as well as editions with black-and-white instead of color illustrations.

In addition, the company will offer professors the chance to customize texts, including only the information actually used in the class.

Marina Bagh, 20, of Haledon, a junior at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck-Hackensack, N.J., said Wednesday that she would welcome a chance to save money on textbooks.

A business major, she spends hundreds of dollars each year on textbooks – a cost that is doubled for her family because her twin sister also attends FDU.

She especially liked the idea of reading her texts on a computer.

“I’m already always on it. I take my laptop wherever I go,” she said. “Rather than lugging the book around wherever you go, you could just log on and start reading it.”

One potential problem, however, is that “some students can’t afford a laptop,” Bagh said.

The high cost of textbooks has been an issue for several years. A House subcommittee even held hearings on the issue last month.

Many students have responded to the high costs by buying their books online, especially at overseas Web sites, where the prices are sometimes lower. Others buy used books, either at a campus bookstore or online.

The Public Interest Research Group this year issued a report criticizing the high cost of textbooks. Among other things, the report suggested making texts available online, as Pearson is doing.

PIRG also said publishers put out new editions more often than is necessary, making it harder for students to save money by buying used books.

But representatives of the publishing industry said that new editions are often necessary, especially in fast-changing fields such as science and technology.