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.