Why Do Textbooks Cost So Much?

textbook rental

As more and more students turn to textbook rental, it bears asking: Why do textbooks cost so much?

It’s no secret that the cost of education has nothing to do with the actual cost of educating. While there are many reasons for that, today, we want to focus on explaining expensive textbooks and how they represent deeper systemic issues.

Are Textbooks Special?

Let’s first begin by addressing a valid question about textbooks. Is there something special about them that justifies their high cost?

While it’s hard to get an exact answer, Dr. Tony Bates, an author and open-textbook advocate estimates the opportunity cost to produce an open textbook sits around $81,000 to $100,000.

Keep in mind this is an estimate coming from someone without a solid pipeline to publishing. While he is an author and educator, Dr. Tony Bates does not have access to the established infrastructure of a textbook company.

The average cost of a commercialized textbook sits around 82 dollars. Many go for 100 dollars or more. Even at twice the rate, Dr. Tony Bates estimates, this means a company would only need to sell about 2000 books to break even.

If this seems like a big ask, keep in mind how much of a hold over the market most textbooks represent. It’s estimated 5 publishers control 80% of the textbook market.

In terms of the final product, textbooks aren’t special in any meaningful way compared to other quality non-fiction works. Instead, it is the companies that publish them’s unique position in the market that is special.

A Stranglehold on the Market

While the issue has gained a great deal of attention in recent years, for a long time, textbook publishers had a strong, if nefarious, market position.

Most business has a company offering a product or service. A potential customer then chooses whether to take the company up on that offer, look for an alternative, or do without.

The issue for college students and other people who need textbooks is this isn’t the equation textbook companies have to deal with. Instead, they’ve been courting educators to do the hard work for them.

When one takes a college course, they don’t decide what course materials they’ll need to buy. Their professor (or someone else in the college hierarchy) does. The bad news? The professor isn’t the one paying.

Unless a professor is aware and actively thinking about this issue, textbook publishers can charge exorbitantly high rates long as the actual text is attractive to educators. 

Moreover, there are a few enough textbook publishers that professors who are aware of the issue face an uphill battle. They still need a quality textbook for their course and may not have many affordable options.

Seeking Alternatives

For students with less money to spend, this price gouging has been a major ongoing issue for decades. Over half of students have chosen not to purchase at least one textbook due to cost.

Of course, foregoing a textbook has its own consequences. Of those who have done so, 94% felt it impacted their ability to perform in the class. Naturally, students (and many educators) have sought out alternatives.

The recent pandemic has only emphasized the issue further, with some companies raising the cost of ebooks vastly higher even than their physical offerings.

Some have turned to piracy, but that is both illegal and comes with a host of its own issues. Texts are often incomplete, providers are inherently unreliable, and many texts are difficult or impossible to find on such sites.

The good news is there is a legitimate, reliable alternative that we’ve put a great deal of time and effort into making available to as many students as possible: textbook rental.

Rental allows students to have access to a text without breaking any laws or risking any issues with the text. All you need to do is make sure you’ve selected the right book for your course, and you’re good to go.

Textbook Rental

We’ve discussed in the past the economics of renting versus buying textbooks. The short of it is that, for the majority of students, renting is by far the better option.

Once they’re done with a course, most students never touch the course’s textbook again. Even if they do, there is a potential for the material to be outdated, meaning they’d be better off reviewing newer material.

This means that most students really only need access to a textbook for, at most, a year. This is what makes renting such an excellent, cost-effective option.

For a fraction of a given textbook’s cost, you can rent a textbook from services like ours that is identical to the one you’d otherwise have to buy for a course.

At the end of your course, you can then return the book to us. This amounts to saving what can be hundreds of dollars after only a few courses.  

Even if you have the money to spend, renting textbooks is still better in most cases. It means fewer textbooks get wasted at the end of the semester, all while students get to keep more money in their bank accounts.

Check Our Catalog and Save

While we can hope lawmakers and educators clamp down on textbook price-gouging, we live in the system we live in. As we push for change, we still need textbooks, and some remain ludicrously expensive.

If you’re tired of buying textbooks for twice what they should cost, check out our catalog. Textbook rental is a great way to save money and guard against bad practices without letting your education suffer.


5 Insider Secrets to Selling College Textbooks for Top Dollar

selling college textbooks

In 2019, it was estimated that purchasing college textbooks cost students an average of $1240 to $1440 each semester. When you’re already paying for tuition and housing, that’s no small sum of money.

One option students can consider is selling college textbooks after they’ve finished using them. The question is, can you make most or all of your money back? If so, how?

You may know by now that we love sharing tips for college students! Today, we’re going to share tips for selling textbooks. 

Read on for five tips to make more money reselling textbooks this year.

1. Maintain Your Textbooks to Sell Them “Like New”

When you’re selling used textbooks, they will typically fall into a few different categories. These categories tend to range from “fair condition” to “like new.” When used textbook resellers can sell used textbooks under the “like new” category, they can charge more–which means that they’ll pay you more.

To keep your textbooks in “like new” condition, you will need to maintain them. That means protecting them from tears and water damage and making sure that the cover doesn’t get too beat up. It also means that you’ll want to take notes elsewhere.

Most used textbook resellers will accept books that have lines that are underlined or highlighted. However, they will usually knock down their offer in these cases. If you’ve taken physical notes in your textbook, they may not take them at all.

The best thing to do is to take notes on your computer or in a notebook. Leaving the pages pristine (meaning no underlining or highlighting, either) will help you maintain that “like new” condition.

2. Shop Your Options For Selling College Textbooks

Take your time when figuring out where to sell textbooks. There are tons of resellers that will accept new textbooks, including online sellers and even second-hand bookstores in your community. However, if you want to get top dollar for your college textbooks, you’ll want to shop around before accepting an offer.

Start by checking in with the seller you purchased your textbooks from in the first place. If they have a used book option, they likely buy back the books that they’ve sold. 

Websites like BookScouter are also useful in this process. BookScouter functions as a database for used booksellers. All you have to do is type in the ISBN number and BookScouter will generate a price comparison chart to help you find the reseller who is willing to offer the most money for your books. 

3. Act Fast When Reselling Textbooks

There are a lot of reasons that you won’t usually get 100% of your money back when you’re selling college textbooks. One is, of course, that your books are no longer new once you sell them back. People won’t pay retail prices for a used textbook, so resellers can’t offer you retail prices when buying them. 

However, there’s another reason that not all college students are aware of. Textbooks can go out of commission at a surprisingly fast rate.

Most professors want students to purchase the latest edition of a textbook. New editions include the most updated information and resources, so this does make sense. However, it also puts a burden on college students who are hoping to make money off of their used textbooks.

The vast majority of textbook publishers are putting out a new edition of their textbooks about three to four times per decade. This means that textbooks, even the latest editions, don’t maintain their value for long because demand will drop almost entirely when a new edition is released. 

What does that mean for you? It means that as soon as you’re done with a textbook, it’s time to start shopping your options for selling college textbooks. Don’t wait until you’ve graduated to try to sell everything, or a large percentage of your books will have lost their value. 

4. Talk to People In Your Program

At the end of the day, companies that will buy back used college textbooks need to turn a profit. That means that they can only offer you a fraction of what they’ll make off of your textbooks, which is already a fraction of what you paid.

There are ways to cut out the middleman, so to speak. Some textbooks are used quite a bit in certain programs. If you have college textbooks that you know students in your program will need next semester, talk to those students, directly. See if they’re interested in buying your well-maintained textbooks for about 1/2-3/4ths the retail price. 

5. Sell College Textbooks at the Right Time of Year

The demand for used college textbooks doesn’t correlate to the latest editions, alone. The demand also correlates to the time of year. There are three specific times a year that students are in the market for college textbooks and you’ll want to start selling yours in time to meet this demand.

Most students are in the market for textbooks either right before or right at the beginning of a new semester. This includes August and September for the fall semester, December and January for the spring semester, and May for summer classes. You may find that reselling textbooks is easier (and more lucrative) when you try to sell them in these high-demand windows. 

Looking For a Better Option? Try Renting Your Textbooks

The cost of college textbooks is on the rise. Selling college textbooks as soon as you’re done with them is a great way to make some of your money back. However, this isn’t always a guarantee and you may get short-changed in the end.

Is there a better option to spend less money on college textbooks? In almost every case, you are better off renting your college textbooks, rather than buying them. Browse our rental textbooks and get what you need for the upcoming semester at a fraction of the price.