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Cyndi AllisonSticker Shock

The average price of a college textbook is $61.66 and rising. Why are books so expensive?

By Cyndi Allison

After twelve years (thirteen years if you were a member of the mandated kindergarten crowd) with subsidized lunches and free books compliments of the public school system, college can be a real pocketbook wake-up call.

If you're not on the school meal plan (and most returning students aren't), then you can coupon clip for fast food deals or grab a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on the way out the door. In other words, you do have options.

Books for school are another story. Even if you buy secondhand through the college bookstore or secondhand online at eBay, you're still paying sticker shock prices. The average cost of a college textbook is $61.66 according to the National Textbook Data Project 1999. Since most classes require one or more textbooks, the typical student will spend $300 to $400 (and up) per semester for a $2,400 to $3,200 price tag for texts per degree. Although the sale of university press books went down in 2000 (-2.4%), professional and scholarly books (the category where many textbooks fall) went up 8.7 percent for sales of $1.25 billion as reported by the Association of American Publishers, Inc.. Many returning students are strapped for cash and while scholarships, grants, and loans may be available for tuition costs, book costs are usually shouldered by the student.

Why Do Textbooks Cost So Much?
It takes a village to put together a textbook, and all the villagers expect some compensation for getting information from point A (the head of the scholar) to point B (the hands of a student).

The writer (usually a professor or group of professors) develops and writes out the textbook. He or she typically builds on years of experience and research as well as the expertise of friends and fellow scholars. In addition, the writer gathers samples (which may include a copyright payment to the original creator), photos, and graphics.

Once the book goes to the publisher, the book is produced and marketed. Manufacturing costs top out as the biggest portion of your text receipt at around 30 percent with marketing running second at over 15 percent.

Texts today include color, illustrations, photos, and other reference materials such as page tabs, which make textbooks more expensive to produce than straight words on paper. Not only are the bells and whistles more costly, the time involved in lay out is increased with high tech design.

The publisher must also get the word out about a new text. The book won't sell if people don't know it exists. Textbooks are typically not the "browse and buy" sort of purchase that someone might make at Barnes and Noble. Advertisements, color brochures, and complimentary copies to professors all drive up the cost of the text.

Once the book hits the shelf at the bookstore (after storage, delivery, and stocking costs), the final markup is added. In addition to the profit margin for the store, which runs from about 3 to 6 percent of the price paid by the student, bookstore operations and personnel costs are factored in at about 17 percent.


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