College Textbook Prices Have Risen More Than 1,000 Percent Since 1977

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There is nothing more miserable than spending a hot, humid August day waiting in a never-ending line at the college bookstore to purchase the professor-mandated textbook you know you’ll open maybe three times this semester.

NBC News reports that textbook prices are up 1,041 percent since 1977 — over three times the rate of inflation. The textbook market has grown with demand, and because students are “captive consumers” forced into purchasing books regardless of need, sellers know they have college students by the balls.

From NBC News:

Students hitting the college bookstore this fall will get a stark lesson in economics before they’ve cracked open their first chapter. Textbook prices are soaring. Some experts say it’s because they’re sold like drugs.

According to NBC’s review of Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, textbook prices have risen over three times the rate of inflation from January 1977 to June 2015, a 1,041 percent increase.

“They’ve been able to keep raising prices because students are ‘captive consumers.’ They have to buy whatever books they’re assigned,” said Nicole Allen, a spokeswoman for the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition.

In some ways, this is similar to a pharmaceutical sales model where the publishers spend their time wooing the decision makers to adopt their product. In this case, it’s professors instead of doctors.

“Professors are not price-sensitive and they then assign and students have no say,” said Ariel Diaz, CEO of Boundless, a free and low-cost textbook publisher.

Textbooks are an unnecessary, outdated cancer on the college experience. Students are sometimes required to purchase four or five different books for a single class, knowing full well they will probably spend less than 30 minutes total reading them all.

The answer? For me, it was renting textbooks online or finding a digital version. It saved me $500 this past spring semester. If I had no other alternative, I simply didn’t buy the book and borrowed someone else’s notes before an exam.

Textbooks are a valuable economics lesson in cost-benefit analysis. Is spending an extra $200 per class on books worth the potential higher grade? I walked out of college with a 3.2 GPA, so I probably sacrificed some GPA points by not purchasing the professor-authored textbooks. Has that GPA affected by ability to find jobs? Absolutely not. Would it have affected my ability to gain admission into graduate school? Potentially, but grad school was never on my radar so I wasn’t worried about it. In reality, most of my classes used textbooks as a supplement learning tool to the lectures. If you took good notes and paid attention in class (or started a class-wide notes Google Doc), you’d be fine without the textbook. Of course, every situation is different, but I’ve found that many students had a similar experience.

Always search out a textbook alternative if the price is high, even if you can afford it. That money can be better spent at the bars.

[via NBC News]

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