Why are college textbooks so expensive?

By Felicia Roehm

College students know buying textbooks can be a hassle, and course-required readings can be cost-bearing, sometimes amounting to hundreds of dollars. Some professors ask students to purchase $400 textbooks that they won’t even open throughout the semester. Textbooks vary in price from major to major, leading to cost discrepancies among students in different departments as well. Why are college students spending so much on textbooks when they often sit in a dorm room collecting dust? 

An article by Thought Co.’s Allen Grove titled, “Why Do College Textbooks Cost So Much?” explains why textbooks can hurt a college student’s wallet. Grove says that although tuition, room and board prices may vary for different colleges, the textbooks will remain the same price for every college bookstore. 

Some reasons behind the high prices are that in college, students are assigned more reading and the course could require content from multiple textbooks. Another reason is the highly specialized material within the book. Grove said, “Many college textbooks are highly specialized and the material is unavailable in any other book. The low volume of published books and the lack of market competition drive publishers to jack up prices.” 

While some works are timeless, like Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” students may still be required to buy a specific version because the subject is always evolving, so the professor could require a more expensive, updated version of the book. Also, with more students using used textbooks, publishers aren’t making as much money, so they will release a new version of the textbook every few years to make the old one out of date. 

This requires the student to buy the new, more expensive version of the textbook. Some professors may require the newer version because it has more specific or different information, causing added costs for students. Faculty have control over what textbooks they assign, and some professors aren’t aware of or care about the cost of the book. The professor may also assign textbooks that they wrote themselves, even if it costs hundreds of dollars. 

There are better ways to buy textbooks, and Grove suggests buying used textbooks whenever possible. College students can save up to 25% on used textbooks, and he also suggests buying online textbooks. “Online bookstores, such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble, often discount books up to 20% of the standard retail price. Sometimes you can pick up a used copy online for even less. But be careful. Make sure you’re getting the correct edition, and make sure shipping costs aren’t more than you’re saving,” said Grove.

Also, students may rent textbooks instead. Grove explains that students can save up to 30% by doing so instead of buying them. A lot of colleges and universities, including Rider, have a buy-back program where students can sell their old textbooks back to the bookstore and get some money back for them. However, it may not be the same price they were purchased for. Sometimes, textbooks worth hundreds may only be bought back for as little as dollars. 

Students can also share textbooks with each other if they are in the same class, or students can sell their textbooks to their peers at a reduced price. Students don’t always use the textbooks they were required to buy after the semester is over, so those who choose to can get rid of the book, and another student has the book they need without spending a ridiculous amount of money. 

Also, if the student doesn’t want to sell their textbook, they could let another student borrow it instead. There are many options for college students to save money on textbooks and not break the bank at the beginning of a new semester. 

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