Why Are Textbooks So Expensive?

Why Are Textbooks So Expensive?

From tuition fees to housing to the cost of food–there’s no denying that paying for college can be expensive. When you factor in the lectures, exams, and projects, it’s just hard for students to find time to work and pay the bills. And then of course there are all the extracurriculars and the social aspects of college–all this adds up and can make it hard to get through college without piling up a significant amount of debt.

But there’s another expense in the equation that uses up a lot of money, textbooks. Because textbooks can be expensive, many students look elsewhere to find their information and use the course notes, search for an online or outdated version of the book, or choose not to buy the book altogether to save money. So all this begs the question–why are textbooks so expensive to begin with?

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Textbook Costs

Textbook costs have certainly been on the rise over the past few years. From 2006 to 2016, fees have increased by a total of 88%. And these costs have caused as many as 65% of students to opt out of buying textbooks that were required for a course at some point in their college careers.  

While students would traditionally turn to outdated books or online sources to find cheaper forms of learning or skip out on high textbook costs, it’s becoming harder to do so. Many companies require mandatory access codes to be inputted online in order to access the course material, where only new and previously unused codes are accepted.

Students are placed in a situation where they need to buy the new version of a book in order to access course material, or they risk losing grades by missing out on relevant information. It’s also becoming harder for students to sell their previously used textbooks and use that money to purchase new ones for different courses as codes expire, which means nobody will want to buy their previously used books. 

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Why Are Textbooks So Expensive?

If you’re wondering why textbooks have become so expensive over the past few years, one of the biggest reasons is due to the structure in the marketplace. There are five major publishing companies that take up the majority of the educational textbook industry’s market share, including Cengage Learning, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw-Hill Education, Pearson Education, and Scholastic. 

With the major efforts these companies are making to create access codes that leave students no choice but to buy these codes if they want access to their course material, there isn’t an alternative supplier students can turn to. Because these companies are so powerful and take up such a large percentage of the market share, and are partnered with so many colleges and universities, they are able to increase the prices on textbooks and make students pay more. And as it turns out, that’s exactly what they’re doing.

Publishers also release new versions every year, upgrading their material to provide the newest facts, information and research to students. On the surface, the goal of this is to make sure students are constantly up to date with new information so they don’t fall behind and develop an outdated learning style. But who would blame you for seeing this as just another opportunity for publishers to make a buck?

Are Professors to Blame?

Another reason why textbooks might be so expensive is because they’re chosen by college faculty members who don’t need to pay the fees. According to a study completed by the Connecticut Board of Governors for Higher Education, only 58% of the state’s faculty members were aware of textbook costs. While the study was completed in 2006, it suggests that college staff isn’t always choosing books with students’ financial needs in mind. 

Though the student who had to shell out $150 for the 9th edition of a book written by their professor probably already knew that.

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