Nic Nielsen


Students turn to piracy in face of high textbook prices


I will admit that I had a difficult time when tasked with coming up with a story idea. It wasn’t until I saw a student pull up a PDF of his textbook in class that I realized I wanted to write on the trend of pirating textbooks. I instantly began doing research on textbooks and was shocked to see just how much new textbook prices have increased in the last decade. I knew this was something students would care about, so I began to ask around campus at the University of Utah.

I interviewed a handful of students, but the topic was sensitive. After all, downloading PDFs of copyrighted textbooks is illegal, so no one would want to go on record saying they’ve actually done it. When I met Olivia Gonzales in the campus library, she was very open about how her friends and even previous teachers have been pirating textbooks. While she wouldn’t give any names, I knew this was going to be the best on-record source about the popularity of the trend.

I came across Thomas Young on a UTA TRAX Red Line train and was instantly intrigued by the stack of textbooks in his hands. He allowed me to interview him, and he provided an interesting point of view on the subject of my story. I was surprised to learn that, although he was unhappy about the price increase, he still preferred to have a physical copy. Because his views differed from everyone else that I interviewed, I knew he was an important source for my story.

Shane Girton was also a fantastic source due to his knowledge of textbooks and his position at the U’s campus store. He provided great information on the process of selling books back to the store, something I originally wanted to discuss in my story, but I decided not to include it because it took away from the focus of pirating textbooks. 

The biggest surprise for me was learning from Girton that publishers set the prices of textbooks at the bookstore. Many of the students I interviewed were under the impression that the bookstore chose the prices, as was I, so this information felt important to share.

Once I had the statistics and quotes that I planned to use, putting the story together was easy. Doing the research first was extremely helpful because if I didn’t know about the textbook price increase or the statistics about students choosing to not purchase textbooks, the quality of my interviews would not have been as high. Through writing this story I learned a lot, and I hope readers will too.


Nic Nielsen is a communication major at the University of Utah following a strategic communication sequence. He is expecting to graduate in December 2019 and plans to pursue a career in marketing and advertising. Currently, he works as a marketing consultant and as a marketing intern for Intermountain Healthcare. In the future, he hopes to help small businesses grow by creating marketing strategies and working with them to build stronger social media presences. Ultimately, his goal is to start his own business by opening a restaurant in Southern California.

In his spare time, Nic works as an actor, something he has been passionate about his whole life. He has worked on local productions, commercials for companies such as Amazon Audible and Klymit, shows such as Disney’s “Andi Mack,” and the A24 horror film “Hereditary.” Along with acting, Nic also enjoys screenwriting and has written a 10-episode season for a half-hour comedy that he hopes to get produced. His other hobbies include surfing, hiking, running, and anything else that keeps him on his feet and moving. Due to his love for the ocean, he actively promotes ocean conservation and is a member of the Surfrider Foundation.