Why College Textbooks Are So Expensive

Almost 80% of the textbook industry is dominated by 5 publishing companies. They use restrictive codes and re-publish new versions of textbooks every 2 to 3 years. Due to these tactics, textbook costs overall have risen 67% from 2008 to 2018.

So it’s the start of a brand new semester. Your teacher hands you your syllabus. And yup you’re going to spend $150 on a textbook for a class you don’t care about!

Turns out, it’s not unreasonable for some four year college students to spend close to $500 a year on textbooks. And it doesn’t seem like prices are coming down anytime soon. Textbook costs rose 67 percent from 2008 to 2018. Which is putting a serious strain on students wallets.

But how did the college textbook publishing industry become so pricey?

Almost 80 percent of the textbook industry is dominated by 5 major publishers. And they’re doing everything in their power to make sure that students keep buying new textbooks. To save money college students started buying used textbooks for cheaper or rented them from bookstores. But publishers took notice and started bundling new textbooks with special codes that restricted access. Forcing students to buy new textbooks at the full retail price.

One study reported that 67% of students skip buying textbooks altogether because of rising prices and restrictive codes. And that’s not the only thing publishers have done to get students to buy new textbooks. There used to be a new edition update every five years. But now the production cycle has been shortened to two or three years.

New editions have reordered chapters or changes in page numbers, making it harder to use older editions. And they can cost up to $150 more. But students have some other options to consider if they want to avoid expensive textbooks. Some schools are starting to use open source educational materials instead of traditional textbooks. That way,  students can access open licensed texts, digital media and other learning materials for a fraction of the cost of textbooks.

But the movement is still in its infancy.  So far, only 6% of schools are using these open resources. It may be awhile before we see textbook prices drop any time soon. So for now, you may have to shell over $150 for a textbook you probably won’t read.

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