By now, it’s common knowledge that textbooks are expensive. Tuition and other costs can increase, but no cost rises faster than college textbooks. But is it out of the ordinary? The price of books has always been costly, and there’s a good reason for that.
Writing and revising the textbooks takes a considerable amount of expertise and time. In addition, college books, particularly those of upper-level courses with a limited market, tend to be expensive since royalties are relatively small.
Textbooks have significant value, so it makes sense if it’s costly. Unfortunately, what students are going through in terms of textbook costs is quite ordinary. Let’s dive into details and find out where the real problem is coming from.
The Real Problem Of The Rising Cost Of Textbooks
Most students take out student loans, including grants or scholarships. However, even though generous, the financial aid package isn’t enough to cover all of the requirements a student needs, including textbooks. So they find ways to pay for the books themselves.
According to a Public Interest Research Groups study, two-thirds of surveyed students skipped renting or buying some of the required course materials because they couldn’t afford them.
Textbook publishers have acknowledged that textbooks and other course materials are costly. But, unfortunately, it’s so expensive that students can’t afford them even if it means they get low grades.
According to the publishers, new technologies such as digital textbooks have made textbooks more affordable for everyone. But advocates say that publishers are responsible for textbook costs that have increased over 1,000% since 1970.
The advocates also claim that what the publishers call “new technologies” is a way to keep their monopoly on the industry while they disguise it as a reform. However, remember that no matter how high textbook costs get, you can always recoup your money by selling your textbooks.
Why Textbooks Cost The Way They Do
When we talk about affordability in college, it tends to focus on tuition, and there’s a good reason for that. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the cost of attending a U.S. college increased by 63% between 2006 and 2016.
Here’s an example: an out-of-state student at a public university can pay $26,000 annually and $40,000 at some private colleges. When you compare the textbook’s cost to the college tuition, it looks so small.
Regardless, the cost of textbooks also went through the roof over the past decade. The price increased by 88% between 2006 and 2016. And according to the College Board, you have to get $1,200 every year to purchase your books.
Of course, this amount can be too much for students, especially those who come from low-income backgrounds.
All Textbooks Are Not Created Equal
All textbooks are not equally priced. For example, humanities books like art history usually cost less than STEM courses such as calculus and chemistry.
Textbooks on, for example, quantitative courses often cost more because it costs more to create and maintain the content compared to other classes. Some professors assign books at all. What they do instead is to use journal articles and other texts, which some cost money to obtain, but others don’t.
Fortunately, most textbooks come with online access codes that let you get supplementary materials or even homework. No wonder professors can depend on one book for almost everything.
Generally, the money students spend on course materials has swiftly surpassed the inflation rate since the 1970s. There are two primary factors for this, according to advocates:
- There is no competition in the higher education publishing industry.
- Professors ultimately determine which textbooks get assigned.
According to a PIRG report, five major publishers control 80% of the market: Cengage, Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Wiley, and Macmillan.
Furthermore, major publishers don’t publish books in subject areas where their competitors have succeeded. And that limits the professors’ alternatives for what to assign.
Digital Textbooks Have Also Contributed To The Rising Costs
Digital books, particularly those with access codes, have also added to the rising textbook costs. When you purchase a book, you don’t just pay for the pages and binding; you also pay for the research, edit, production, and distribution of the textbook.
When the textbook comes with an access code, you also pay for whatever access you get, like supplementary materials, videos, lessons, homework assignments, etc. Furthermore, since you can only use the access code once, the textbooks are pretty worthless without them.
It also prevents students from sharing a book with their classmates to save costs. But you can always find ways to recycle your textbooks to get the most benefit.
As textbooks get more expensive, people who make sure students get a quality education are now forced to do more work for less money. In the end, both the professor and student struggle to get by.