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Why are college textbooks so expensive?

College textbooks are expensive. Everyone knows that. But not everyone can tell you why they are expensive. The campus bookstore is easy to blame, because that's who gets your money. College bookstores typically make a 20% or 25% profit on new college textbooks, which is not actually that high a profit margin for a retail business (by comparison an apparel retailer might make a 50% or more profit on selling clothes). Most of the college bookstore's profit comes from used textbooks and other merchandise, including clothes, gifts, etc.

When you buy new college textbooks, roughly 80% of the retail price goes directly to the textbook publisher. Of that amount, approximately 20% goes to printing expenses, 10% to marketing, 5% to distribution/shipping costs, 5% to the author(s), and 5% for various other costs. This leaves roughly 35% net profit for the textbook publisher. Keep in mind this is a general example and that these numbers are estimates. Nevertheless, you can see that a large part of the high retail price translates directly into publisher profits. It's no secret that book publishing is a profitable business, and the college textbooks industry is no different.

What can you do? Well, the obvious thing is to not buy any college textbooks and "share" with a classmate. Although this might work for some classes, we don't recommend it if you are serious about school (and we're not just saying this because we're in the textbook business). The best thing to do is to buy used textbooks when you can. Besides the fact that used textbooks are cheaper, by buying used textbooks you're essentially refusing to support the publisher's high profits on new college textbooks. The publishers hate the used textbooks market more than anyone, because they only make money on new textbooks. When you buy used textbooks, the profits go mostly to the bookstore you buy from. By buying used, you are reducing the demand for new college textbooks and in the long run this might serve to bring down the price of new college textbooks.

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