Why Are Textbooks so Expensive? Here’s an Explainer

why are textbooks so expensive

The average student will spend around $40,000 a year on college tuition. For private colleges, this figure can be even higher. You would think those astronomical figures would be enough to worry about.

However, the cost of required textbooks for your course can run into hundreds of dollars. The average cost for student textbooks for the 2018-2019 academic year was $415. The College Board stipulates that students should factor in around $1240 annually for textbooks and supplies. 

This isn’t even the worst part! Some students on courses such as science and medicine can find that one single textbook can cost in the region of an eye-watering $300.  

So why are textbooks so expensive? And what can you do to combat this? In this article, we will explain the reasoning behind this and give you some top tips to help with this hefty college textbook bills.

Why Are Textbooks So Expensive?

In short, this is to do with the publisher’s motivations to make a profit. Publishers of college textbooks are in the unique position of students and colleges needing to buy their books so they can charge exorbitant rates.

The fact remains that the academic publishing industry is not a saturated market whatsoever. There are five main publishers in the industry and they control 80% of the total sales. With such a huge margin and so few competitors, it’s in their interest to keep costs high, as students have no choice but to buy them. 

The publishers also work closely with their academic writers and professors, constantly churning out new content and editions to render previous textbooks obsolete.

Professors and academics are also under quotas and external pressures to keep getting new publications to ensure their tenure or their position at a university. 

Publishers capitalize on this unfortunate pressure in the academic world, allowing them to continue to create new books. This, in turn, will force students into having to purchase the newer editions to complete their studies.

It is an endless cycle of intellectual content that is academia, and not something that will change anytime soon.

College libraries also suffer because they simply cannot afford to purchase these books in the quantities the students need. At most, if budgets allow, they might be able to buy three or four of a certain textbook.

But say if there are thirty or forty students in a class, that is nowhere near enough textbooks to go around. Which then forces students into purchasing the textbook at a high cost. 

Are Textbooks Getting Even More Expensive?

In some cases, the unfortunate answer is yes. The problem being access codes and bundles which are sold alongside the textbooks to access online content. The access codes or login details are then only redeemable until the end of the semester.

After that, they are rendered useless without the correct codes which means students can’t resell their textbooks or buy one secondhand. Up to 4 out of 10 colleges have used bundles or access codes alongside their prescribed academic textbooks.

This is not good news for students who are trying to keep their overall costs down.

Legislation and College Professors  

In 2006, the Advisory Committee for Student Financial Assistance reported that the cost of student textbooks had risen by 186% in the past eight years. This extreme hike in price was even noticed by legislators and steps were put in place to try and address the issue.

In 2008, a law was passed known as the Textbook Affordability Act where textbook publishers had to disclose to faculty and professors how much each of their textbooks cost. It is a step in the right direction for college students and their costs, but some people still believe this isn’t enough. 

This visibility and transparency have helped in some respects. By allowing professors and departments access to the prices they can make their own decisions on which textbooks to allocate their students.

This is in good faith that they will choose textbooks that aren’t extraordinarily overpriced or beyond students’ means and budgets.

This initiative has been helpful to some extent, but it is, of course, dependent on the whims of the individual professors and faculty. The law is leaving the responsibility firmly in the hands of the colleges, as opposed to the publishers. 

So What Can You Do About Increasing Textbook Costs?

Do you want to be one of those students who are having to forgo lunch, meals out, or be left with no disposable cash at the end of every week? Shelling out on massive textbooks that you are going to use for one semester doesn’t make any logical sense.

The best thing to do to save money on your textbooks is to thoroughly price check before you buy.

Here at TextbookRentals.com we provide a thorough price comparison book rental service that allows you to price check on thousands of different books. You can search for any book via its ISBN number, title or author, and price compare different rental options found through our engine.

You’re then able to rent your books for a limited time, for a limited fee from the recommended rental providers listed by our price comparison website. This can save you hundreds of dollars for money that you can spend on yourself, instead of gathering dust on a shelf.

You’ll see the cheapest option first, and find 3 different rental date ranges. These ensure you can rent your book for a full semester, 90 days, or less than 90 days. However long you need a book for, our comparison service will show you the best rental options for you.

Where Can I Find out More?

We hope this article has given you enough information and food for thought about increasing textbooks prices and why they are so expensive. Unfortunately, it also doesn’t look like things will be changing anytime soon.

If you would like to find out more, why not check out our previous blog posts?

We’re dedicated to ensuring all students have access to simple, easy-to-understand information on textbook rental prices, however long they need them for.