The High Price of Textbooks: Can Smaller Publishers Help?

May 2004
by Steven Karris

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According to surveys conducted by the University of California, students spend an average of about $900 a year on textbooks, up from about $640 seven years ago. This represents an annual increase of approximately 6 percent, far above the annual rate of inflation. It is nearly as bad as the rising costs of health care. If this trend continues, by the year 2010 the average annual cost of textbooks will be nearly $1,300.

Who is to be blamed for these increases? The news media points the finger at the traditional book publishers that publish new editions every three or four years, in most cases with only minor additions or changes. Some books–computer books, for example–must be revised often to include the latest changes in software applications. But why is it necessary to revise a calculus book so often? And why do so many texts come bundled with CD-ROMs when the average student prefers that books be sold unbundled to keep the price increases to a minimum?

Changes to Contemplate


Several state lawmakers have reportedly introduced legislation or are thinking of introducing legislation designed to make more unbundled textbooks available, to elicit explanations of changes in new editions, and to encourage faculty to consider price when choosing books to order.

In my view, legislation should also be introduced to mandate variable profit margins for college bookstores, since the higher-priced books result in more profit for the books…IBPA Members – Click here to view the full article (login required).

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