We all know college textbooks are expensive, but why is that the case? Here are a few reasons for the growing textbook costs we see today:
Publishers only make money when new books are sold
Publishers create the textbooks and make money based on how many new books are produced and sold. Because of this, they want to see more new books bought and fewer used books bought.
“Since the publishers don’t make any money off used-book sales, their business model is to make the old editions obsolete and force you to buy a new book.” (NY Post)
There are a few different tactics we have seen publishers use to try to sell more new books:
Marketing new editions of textbooks to professors. Marketing reps are trained to hook your professor into selecting a new edition of a textbook without really mentioning the price of the book. These new editions often contain only minor content changes. As soon as the new edition is selected by the professor, the old edition often is useless for their class.
Creating custom editions. Publishers will create university specific book editions (custom editions) with no named authors, which makes it hard for students to find cheaper alternatives. These editions also frequently are minor revisions, with some being a simple of a difference as a different title page in the book. It is basically impossible to tell the difference between a custom edition of a book and the edition of the book that it is based on without purchasing copies of both and comparing them.
Packaging books with access cards. Due to increased use of online homework programs that require access cards, there have been increased amounts of textbooks being bundled with the access card. This makes getting all the materials you need for your class very easy, but it often comes at a high price. These access cards can often be purchased individually from the publisher for a lower price than the package, but it is difficult to identify exactly what access card you need for your class. Because of the difficulty of this process, many students will choose to just buy the package and spend more than they should.
Textbooks are chosen by people who aren’t paying for them
The process of choosing what textbook is used for a class is part of what drives textbook prices up. Textbooks are typically chosen for a class by the professor who is teaching the class. These professors are visited by publishers who try to convince the professor to use their book. The professor evaluates their different options and selects a book that is best suited for their class.
So what is the problem with this? The textbook is selected by someone who won’t have to pay for it. When evaluating which textbook to choose, many professors do not consider the price of the book and what impact it will have on their students. Because they will not be paying for the book, there is little incentive for professors to include price in their ultimate textbook decision.
Lack of Competition
There’s just not that many publishers! The textbook market is dominated by five major players, and none of them are willing to make room for small publishers with better prices. These major publishing companies are able to hike up new textbook prices without fear of market competitors.
“According to the National Association of College Stores, more than 77 cents of every dollar spent on textbooks go to publishers. Of those 77 cents, the publishing company makes about 18 cents in pure profit, while spending 15 cents on marketing, and roughly 32 percent to cover costs (paper, printing, employee salaries, etc). At the same time, the author – the person who dedicated hundreds of hours of research to write the book – only gets about 12 cents on the dollar on average.” (Business Insider)