Why do textbooks cost so dang much?

So I just finished purchasing textbooks for this semester and it came to an astounding total of $730… Why?! Where is the incredible greed coming from when a textbook costs upwards of $120? A professor stated on a recent trip to Venezeula, he spotted numerous textbooks at tiny fractions of the costs of them in the US.

I also heard there was a movement to try and get textbook companies to lower their prices, anyone know about this? Thanks…

P.S. tried to search the forum for a topic like this, but I’m not seeing any search page, and manually typing in search.php gives me an error. Please excuse me if this topic has been discussed before.

I feel your pain. Mine top out at about five hundred this semester, including buying all the used ones I could. And that’s only taking four classes with books. My fifth, senior research, is book free. Last fall, I dropped over seven hundred. Okay, so my parents covred a lot of that, but still. And I’ve had to buy books since seventh grade. Oh, I can beat the 120. My biochem book will cost me a prett 145, and I’m sure I’ll never use it.

Not a clue why, other than life sucks sometimes.

My theory is because the textbook printers have a monopoly on a product with a 100% inelastic demand. Most times, a student is required to by a specific edition of a specific book, so they’re forced to pay whatever the bookstores are charging.

I hate it. I’ve spent 175 so far this semester and expect to drop another 150 or so. And I’m an English major, so that means relatively few textbooks.

Textbook makers aren’t exactly laughing their way to the bank either. Textbooks are often extremely low volume affairs, and current processes with bookmaking mean that making the first copy of any book is expensive but subsequent versions come nearly free. Furthermore, the requirements of the typical textbook are going to be greater than a novel or non-fiction book. Plenty of colour pictures and diagrams and the like. On top of that, theres great risk in textbook publishing, there might be 50 - 100 different textbooks on a certain subject area but only 2 - 3 will ever break even and become wildly popular and the rest will have to be written off.

Also, due to the relative laxity of Intellectual property protections in most other countries (notably in Asia), textbook makers can’t get away with charging the same prices over there since people just pirate them so they are forced to make the bulk of their profits in the US and similar markets.

Also, university student stores mark up the book prices. In some cases (e.g., lit class) you can buy the same books for 10-20% less at a conventional bookstore.

I have a friend who writes and publishes a textbook with a partner and they’re making a killing. They’ve written other (non-text) books and have made decent money on them, but he says that with a textbook the profit margin is much higher. Not considering the year or so it took them to write it, it costs about $1 to make and it sells for $24 in the bookstore. They sell it to the bookstore at a 20% discount (apparently that’s the standard profit margin for bookstores).

So why can he charge this much? As someone said, there’s a monopoly and 100% inelastic demand. And textbook publishers know this. Why do you think they come out with new editions every few years? My friend has told me quite plainly that this is to keep up sales. Basically, if you’re a student, you’re screwed.

Of course, you can always fight the bookstore monopoly. The Internet has opened up a world of opportunities for buying books at a cheaper price. In fact, back in my college days I used one of the overstock sites to screw over the bookstore. I had a copy of the required books ahead of time and found one of them for $3 on the Internet. It retailed for $24. I bought 12 copies and sold them for $12. It worked out well for everyone – I made a lot of money, students saved a lot of money, and the bookstore got a taste of its own medicine. Good times, good times.

My university has a textbook rental program. The current fees are $56 a semester for textbooks. I don’t have to buy any, except solutions manuals if I want them or texbooks I want for my own.

I have my eye on one book I need for this semseter on eBay. One seller is putting up a copy a week starting at $2 (used), while other sellers I have found on the Internet are selling this book at full price - $59.

I wonder why more schools don’t go with the rental program? I would think most subjects don’t change that much from year to year (like calculus) and after a few semesters of use the books need to be recycled and new texts bought anyway.

I’ve honestly never understood why someone doesn’t just open up a textbook store outside a University and sell the books for even a few bucks cheaper. I mean, everyone would go there instead of the University’s store. They’d be wildly successful.

I have seen a couple such a stores. One wasn’t wildly popular for several reasons.

  1. It wasn’t right in the heart of campus.
  2. The professors weren’t required to give their textbook orders to this store months ahead of time, so they relied on profs to report to them out of the kindness of their hearts.
  3. They just didn’t do enough volume to carry texts for most smaller classes.

So basically you could schlep off-campus and pick up a few of your texts at a few bux less than the campus store, but the savings weren’t really that great, and you still had to make a trip to the campus store.

The other was Iowa Book & Supply (a.k.a. “Book & Crook”) at the Unversity of Iowa which had more space, more books and . . . as a result didn’t feel the need to mark anything down below list. They have a kick-ass school supplies department, though . . .

It would make a lot of sense in this day and age to issue the textbooks on CD… granted, there would still be the costs of authoring the text, but the production cost would be about nil.

The main reason textbooks have gotten so expensive is used books. Textbook publishers can no longer rely on a textbook selling consistently over the life of its edition; once used books start entering the market, fewer new copies get bought, which means the price of new books has to go up. Simple economics really.

Another problem, as others have pointed out, is that students are importing titles from overseas markets where the price of textbooks is more strictly regulated. Result: the publisher is again being undercut by its own product, ergo the domestic new book price goes up to make up the shortfall.

Anyone who thinks publishing textbooks is a license to print money needs to pull his head out of the sand. Writing textbooks is a very good racket; a successful book can make an author a millionaire several times over. But textbooks cost an insane amount of money for a publisher to develop; in addition to the book itself, there are numerous supplements and teaching aids that students never see but that profs rely on to teach their classes. (Plus all the student study guides, websites, CD-ROMs etc that most students ignore despite the fact that they’ve paid for them.)

And your bookstores aren’t laughing all the way to the bank either; sure there’s a markup on textbooks, but no more than for any other product you buy in a store, and it’s often less as a result of pressure from both students and faculty to keep prices low. You want to get rich? Don’t open a college bookstore.

And whoever made that remark about books being revised solely to milk students, get a life. How would you like to sit down in your biology or economics class and find that your prof assigned you a book that’s five years or more out of date? How much success do you think publishers would have getting profs to adopt books that were five years or more out of date?

Most textbooks do come with electronic versions. As far as I know, no one is clamoring for CD-ROMs to replace printed books. I think most students still want a book they can hold in their hands and write in if they need to. (To say nothing of being able to read without a computer.)

Online is a great place to buy books, if you can find them. Our bookstore has this lovely way of bundling books with other stuff, therefore making it impossible buyt them online. Half.com, by the way, is a good place to look, but be sure to do it by ISBN.

We do indeed have a cheaper off-campus bookstore. I didn’t know it existed until my mom told me about it, though, which is weird because it’s like a 10 minute walk from campus, and Arkadelphia, Arkansas isn’t that big of a town. Anyway, i don’t know how early the profs submit book requirements, but they had all of my books and all of my roommates, at about a 80 dollar discount for me. Ignore the fact that I still spent just under 700 bucks on books (no parent help!), all used except for one. Majoring in two sciences sucks.

Oh, and they said they comparison shop every book, meaning that they’re cheaper by some amount on every single one.

Not unlike prescription drugs in the US, the person how chooses the textbook/drug is not the person who pays for the textbook/drug. There is no incentive for the professor to choose older or inexpensive books for his classes. More likely the prof will choose the latest, greatest and best textbooks available because it will benefit him and the students but the prof does not have to pay the bill.

Years back as a university Instructor I was constantly bombarded with free copies of all the latest textbook editions from all the publishers. I had no idea how much these books would cost and chose the ones I thought were best.

My grad school textx were going to run me about $1000 for 7 credit hours. Both normal books ($750 for all new books) and custom-made materials($250).

I convinced my instructors to give me the ISBN numbers (so I don’t get an outdated version) for all the normal books, then went to amazon.com and half.com. Ended up getting all the normal books either used or discounted, and ended up paying only $300 – with $120 of that being for a journal that just came out this month.

My alma mater boasted an on-campus bookstore; in addition there were (and still are) two independent off-campus private bookstores. One stocked a full range of textbooks for all classes, the other specialized in humanities/social studies. So far as I remember, prices were basically comparable between the two big bookstores (I never used the smaller one), although the off-campus store generally was more generous when buying used books.

Is it that uncommon for competing private stores to exist? I always assumed they were pretty common. After all, if East Lansing had two…

I work for a not-for-profit college bookstore, run by a corporation formed separate from the University, but closely tied to it. There is one independent for profit and one for profit run by a book wholesaler (Nebraska Book Company) in town.

I work at a satellite of the main campus bookstore in Kansas City.

Our markup is close to 20%, which all goes to cover costs. Anything left over goes directly to the university.

      • Textbook writers and publishers are greedy thieves, making a killing–and students are screwed because they have no choice. There was just a story on Slashdot about south-Texas students who buy textbooks, and then take them to copy shops in Mexico and have them duplicated at low cost (~$13 for a 300-page book was the example mentioned) and then try to turn the books back in for refunds.
  • As to the argument that “textbooks need pictures, colors, ect”–well, no they don’t. This is precisely the worthless bullshit content that gets revised every year (because it’s easiest to do so), so that the old edition becomes worthless and the new version sold.
  • At my area college the bookstore is now sourced by Amazon, so it’s not the bookstore making a killing. Unless you count used books, where the bookstore sells the book new for $80, used for $60, but only pays $15 for a used book turned in. I’d call that a killing, myself.
  • But they get to do that less and less nowadays, because of “assorted materials”, you see:

------ Well where I attended, most of the students ignored that stuff, beause most of the instructors ignored it as well. BUt if you open the shrink-wrap around this bundle of junk, the book is not returnable, because the bookstore does not accept software returns at all… so now, many books are non-refundable, even in cases where the instructor said to buy the wrong book. The newest scam I saw was where IT books had a “course website” where when you got a book, there was a password and username inside. And you could sign on to the website, and get assignment materials and there was a forum for instructor notes or discussion, and sometimes there is timed online quizzes or tests that grade automatically (that I’m sure the teachers enjoy). But the fuck job here is that the website is run by the book publisher, and the book publisher cancels all the passwords every year, so that the books cannot effectively be re-used. Because you need a working password for the website, and you only get that by buying a new/unused book. And the saddest part is that while writing a high-level course btextbook might be difficult, these were for what were really technically-lightweight courses, and the books were downright shitty: these were the books that are hardly worth keeping as references because they are so filled with idiot fluff. 300-page large-format books that could easily be boiled down to 100 pages, without losing any important content. LOADS if pointless diagrams, multicolor pictures and especially stupid “real world examples” that -exactly- mimic examples in the “regular text” two inches to the left, except that… the “real world examples” don’t ever use anybody’s full name, or concern real, actual companies. Hmmmm, smells like bullshit to me.
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It’s a racket. And I can’t prove it but I’m positive the Mafia is involved somewhere. There’s just too much money for them to not get their hands in it. [SIZE=1](I’m only half joking.)[/SIZE]

Law books are rough. Let’s say the 1st edition came out in, oh, 2002. In 2004 the 2nd edition is printed. What’s the difference? Oh, about three new court cases.

This semester was pretty decent for me, though. All of my books are new except one. I have two more to buy, and my final total will be about $225-250. I already had my Spanish book, and most of the books I needed this semester were small because 3 of them are writing intensive. Pray for me.