Is last year's edition really that different?
'Exploring Science' has just been re-issued for the third time since 2003. Is it a money-making racket or are the changes really necessary?
At Ratoath College, Co Meath, principal Maire Ni Bhroithe has just forked out more than €5,000 for a new set of science books for the school's book rental scheme.
Exploring Science, published by The Educational Company of Ireland, has been re-issued in a new edition, the third since it was first published in 2003. The latest edition costs €31.95.
Ratoath already has 90 copies of the second edition published in 2007. The students for whom these copies were purchased have now completed the Junior Cert so their text books are available for the new intake of first years. But there are 120 students entering first year this year.
"We have to have the books available in sets of 24, since that's the size of a science class. It just doesn't work if students are using different editions because things are on different pages and so there would be a lot of time wasted with students trying to find the right page," says Ms Ni Bhroithe.
She looked at the possibility of buying additional copies of the second edition of the book second hand, but there was an issue with the condition of all the second-hand copies. "In the end we decided to buy an entire new set of books," she explains.
"Parents who are buying the books for their kids come to me complaining that I put the new edition on the list. Because of the logistics of the book rental scheme, I had no choice. But when they ask why there's a need for a new book I can't explain it to them. I don't see the need myself.
"I've heard some people complain this is just a money-making racket for book publishers and I find it hard to argue with that."
At School Book Exchange (www.schoolbookexchange.ie), a website which allows people to buy and sell second-hand books, the second edition of Exploring Science is available for between €5 and €20.
A parent could save at least €10, or 33pc of the cost of the new edition, by buying the previous edition secondhand. But of course the previous addition would have to be the one being used at the school.
Every effort was made to contact The Educational Book Company of Ireland to ask about why it published a new edition of Exploring Science but the company did not respond.
A recent survey by the Consumers Association, in conjunction with the Irish Second-level Students Union (ISSU) estimated that the average cost of books for a first year student entering secondary was about €350.
If the same saving made from buying Exploring Science second hand were available for all books on the list, that cost could be reduced by a whopping €160. Aside from the saving, parents would be able to recoup some of the cost of buying new books by selling old books to other students.
In 2003, Tim Hurley decided to found School Book Exchange because he was horrified not just at the cost of school books for his three children, but the waste of dumping old books.
"It's just getting worse from what I can see," he says. "Last year my son finished his Junior Cert. My daughter is starting first year. Not a single book used by my son was on my daughter's book list.
"Families are held to ransom. It's not just an issue of cost, it's the waste. I've heard of entire skips being filled with perfectly good textbooks that aren't being used anymore," he says.
School Book Exchange is a free service with about 15,000 members. There is plenty of buying and selling but of course, the frequency with which new editions are released means that many people don't have the option of buying their text books second hand.
Mr Hurley has started a campaign, 'Freeze School Book Lists' which urges the Department of Education and Science to stop new editions appearing on book lists unless absolutely necessary.
Book lists are set by individual schools. At Ratoath, for example, Ni Bhroithe says she refuses to change the list unless there is a very good reason.
"Obviously if there is a curriculum change it's necessary. But it annoys me when I have to make changes because of logistics with the book rental scheme. I'm very aware of the financial pressures on parents at the moment and I don't want to add to that pressure in any way," she says.
According to Leanne Caulfield of the ISSU, all the main Irish educational publishing companies release new editions of books. She claims there is often very little difference between the editions.
In Irish book publishing, the education sector accounted for 63pc of total sales last year, down 1pc since 2007. Total revenue from educational books last year was €54m. That's a 13pc decrease on sales since 2007, more than the average sales decrease for the entire book industry of 11pc.
Yet sales of second-level education books increased marginally from €32.3m in 2007 to €32.41m in 2009. And this was in the face of a severe economic down-turn.
While parents and teacher might complain about the frequency with which education publishers release new editions, it is unlikely that anything will change unless the Department of Education decides to play an active role in selecting the books children require for school.
Until that happens, there will, no doubt, be a remarkably similar edition of this piece published next year!