Semesters come and go, and college students deal with the related costs. You’ve seen college textbook prices rise, and you grumble, but have you ever asked why? Why do textbooks cost so much money? How is the price of college textbooks defined?

Why Are Textbooks So Expensive?

Our previous article about the rising price of college textbooks addressed several aspects of this issue. Textbook publishers continue to supplement the hardback copy with extra materials that drive up the cost, even though few professors rarely use the material. This is the main answer to “Why do textbooks cost so much,” but the problem si much more complicated. Students would rather say “Thanks, but no thanks,” but they risk not doing well in the class on the off-chance that a professor does use the extra material. Additionally, the short rotation cycle for updated publications drives up cost and devalues textbooks faster.

Are Textbooks Elastic or Inelastic?

In a regular market of supply and demand, most products are elastic, which means that price changes affect supply and demand. Unfortunately, textbooks don’t follow that logic. The market for textbooks is inelastic because students have to buy whatever their professors assign, thus allowing textbook publishers to jack up the costs. Demand remains the same, and the textbooks make more money for publishers.

Why did we bore you with a lesson in economics? Because it’s important to see the lack of control that students have in the market for textbooks. The lack of control over textbook costs has been compared to the cost of prescriptions in the healthcare system. Doctors prescribe medicine with little thought of the cost because they aren’t paying the bill. An ill patient will foot the cost because she doesn’t want to gamble with her health.

In the same way, professors can assign whatever books they please, and students buy them or risk their academic future. Are the textbook and drug markets the same? No. Are there similarities in their elasticity (or inelasticity in this case)? Yes. Are we asking too many questions? Maybe.

Is Anything Can be Done About the Price of College Textbooks?

Another issue concerning the price of college textbooks caught our attention during research. The problem was so pronounced that the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) issued a public statement to address the issue. The organization asks: Is it moral for a professor to assign a textbook that she/he authored and for which she/he will receive payment? To some, the dilemma sounds like a simple conflict of interest. “Of course it’s not ok,” they would reply. To them, it’s wrong that professors can make money by forcing students to buy textbooks they authored.

The AAUP argues that even if a professor does receive profit, it’s very small. Nevertheless, several universities have implemented review programs and rules to make sure there are no improper textbook assignments. In those cases, professors may go through a review process, receive no compensation for the book sales, or donate the money received from books sales to charity. Concerning textbook prices as a whole, legislators have drafted the “Affordable College Textbook Act” seeks to cut the costs of textbooks.

We recognize that textbook costs are an intimidating price to pay for your education. Know that measures are being taken to reduce the financial burden. You can check out BookScouter to help recover some of the cost from those high textbook prices!

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