Why are college textbooks so expensive?
With student and faculty complaints about the price of college textbooks on the rise, the California Student Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG)', the Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group (OSPIRG) and the OSPIRG Foundation conducted a survey of the most widely assigned college textbooks in the fall of 2003 at 10 public colleges and universities in California and Oregon. Student volunteers and staff also interviewed 156 faculty and 521 students about the cost of college textbooks and their purchasing practices. Key findings from this survey include:
College Textbooks are Expensive and Getting Even More Expensive
College Textbooks Publishers Add Bells and Whistles that Drive Up the Price of College Textbooks; Most Faculty Do Not Use These Materials
College Textbooks Publishers Put New Editions on the Market Frequently, Often With Very Few Content Changes, Making the Less Expensive, Used College Textbooks Obsolete and Unavailable
The production and pricing of college textbooks merits scrutiny from educators and lawmakers because they affect the quality and affordability of higher education. As this report shows, the cost of college textbooks is a growing expense for students. The high cost is primarily due to publishers producing new textbook editions like clockwork, regardless of how much new educational content exists, and including expensive bells and whistles, such as CD-ROMs, that professors rarely find useful. The more expensive new editions force the older, less-expensive used textbooks off the market.
Publishers should produce more affordable, quality college textbooks. They also should offer faculty and students the option to purchase college textbooks unbundled and provide faculty with more information on the company's materials, their prices, intended length of time on the market and substantive content differences from previous textbook editions. Faculty should use their decision-making power to demand substance over bells and whistles and should consider cost and accessibility of previous editions secondary only to educational value when selecting college textbooks for their courses.