Why Textbooks are Expensive (and What You Can do About it)


I am someone who likes to be prepared. I always keep snacks in my purse in case I (or one of my friends) gets hungry. I always have an umbrella in my backpack in case it starts to rain. I always buy all of my school supplies before the first day of school.

My freshman year of college, my school supplies were things like notebooks and pencils and folders, which are all pretty routine supplies that I (or that my mom) had been purchasing since my elementary school days. But, now being in college, I had to purchase that one school supply that everyone dreads: textbooks.

I had heard about how expensive textbooks were, so I thought I was outsmarting the system by scouring used book stores and online textbook websites, like Chegg, for the best deals. However, after all of the different combinations of renting books and buying used books and digitally downloading books, my bill still came out to be around $550. For most college students, this is not shocking. In this study.com article,

The National Association of College Stores reports that the average student spends $662 annually on course materials.

Getting a higher education gets more and more expensive each year. Via www.moneyunder30.com

Rising tuition prices are killer, but rising textbook prices are just as killer. According to this Atlantic article, the price of college textbooks have risen 812% since 1978. The price of textbooks have increased more than the price of healthcare, home prices, and inflation.

Why are the costs of textbooks rising so much? Publishers will argue that the increased price comes from increased costs, which is fair to say. But there are other factors affecting the price of textbooks, like that nifty software that you MUST buy in order to access online homework or quizzes or test resources or even the textbook itself.

Textbook companies make it so the bundle is the “best option”; renting the book and buying the access code separately is more expensive that just buying the bundle outright. New editions of textbooks are also cash cows for textbook companies. Most of the time, these new editions might have a new case study or some fixes to the content–nothing too special. But textbook companies will slap on a new cover and charge several hundred dollars more for this “new” edition.

A new cover means more money. Via libguides.uccs.edu

To really put it into perspective of how much the publishing companies make, this Vox article states that:

The National Association of College Stores said 78 cents of every dollar spent on new textbooks goes to publishers.

Publishers take a significant portion of textbook sales; a higher price means a higher profit. There’s also not a lot of competition between textbook companies, meaning that they can charge higher prices because there aren’t any other companies that can offer a better price. As students, we’re pretty much forced to buy textbooks; they’re required materials for the classes we’re taking.

Not everything is the publisher’s fault. Professors also have a role in the higher price of required textbooks for their classes. Several articles compare professors to doctors. When a doctor prescribes a medicine, maybe she doesn’t check the price and prescribes the brand name medicine. There are usually cheaper, generic brands of the same medicine that will work just as well. The same goes for professors who “prescribe” certain textbooks without checking the price. In both situations, the person prescribing isn’t the one paying.

Professor McGonagall would check textbook prices for her class before assigning them, unlike some professors. Via giphy.com

Textbook companies are in the business of making a profit at student’s expense. But there are cheaper alternatives out there!

You can use open educational resources, which offer online resources at free or reduced costs. They also allow for collaboration between professors and students. You can also rent your books, either online or from the university bookstore. You can buy your books used, either from other students, online, or at the bookstore. If you have a library card for your local library, you could see if the textbooks you need (or novels for certain classes) are available to check out. Sometimes, your university library will have the books you need and allow you to check them out, too.

Don’t let the textbook companies back you into a corner. You have the power to save yourself some money by seeking out other ways to get your educational materials.