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.