3 Reasons Why College Textbooks Are So Expensive and How to Save as Much Money as Possible

The ever-rising costs of college tuition have caused many to rethink their education, but one subject that has gotten under many noses is college textbooks. According to the Huffington Post, in 2014 college textbooks had increased in price by 812 percent since 1978, beating medical services, new house prices, and inflation.

CollegeBoard estimated that last year’s average undergraduate spent about $1,300 on textbooks over two semesters, as seen in the image below.

2015-2016 college expenses

I can personally say that my textbooks have cost more than that this semester. I spent over $700 on three classes and thankfully, I already had the book for my fourth class. That sets me up to pay about $1,400 by the end of the school year.

So why are college textbooks so expensive and what can you do about it to save money?

Who’s to Blame?

Wonder who to point fingers at when it comes to expensive books? It’s both the publishers’ and schools’ fault.

Publishers come out with “new editions” to undermine the used market

Have a textbook handy? Take a look at what edition it is. Is it in its 9th edition? Maybe it is the 17th like the textbook aside me right now? Why do we need all these “new editions”? Publishers come out with these in order to undermine the used-book market. They get to tweak a few typos here and there, maybe update some of the data and a few charts… and BLAM, a newer edition. Schools now assign these new editions and students must buy them new.

Publishers just don’t care what the price is, similar to how a doctor isn’t paying for those drugs they’re prescribing

Just like a doctor isn’t paying for all the drugs they’re writing for you, publishers aren’t paying for their textbooks! Why would they care that the student has to pay $200+ for a book? How many books can you buy for $40 that can have the same knowledge as a normal college textbook? Plenty.

Schools add in software packages that you can only buy from them

This is something that the school does to get you to pay them more money (as if they don’t get enough). What the school does is put together a package that can only be bought from them for your class. For example, many of my classes have a physical textbook but require special access to a website that holds all of the assignments and tests. This access might cost over $150 for a year of access easily.

What Can I Do About This?

Need some tips on how to save money? Yeah, we know about buying used, renting, and that kind of stuff, but are there other ways that can lead to getting a better deal? Of course there are!

Use your college’s bookstore to see what book you need

What I do here is go to my college’s online bookstore, put in my classes, and it shows me all of the textbooks that I need (and whether they’re required or not). Now that I know what books I need, I can search around the Internet to see if I can get the book cheaper than at the bookstore.

If your school doesn’t have an online bookstore, you could instead go to the bookstore and see what you need. After you find out what you are going to need, you can scan the barcode of the book with a mobile app, or just take notes on what it is. Later, you can research prices to get the best deal.

Email your professors to find more options

Just a semester ago, I started this new habit. I would email my professors a few weeks before the start of the semester, just saying that I’m extremely excited for the new semester and would love it if I could have the syllabus early. I seemed to have pretty good results… my professors never forgot my name. In fact, they knew me first, before any of the other students. This is pretty important in big colleges where the professor has a large class and may not get to know most of the students as individuals. The closer you are to your professors, the more opportunities you may receive academically (whether it be letters of recommendation or being recommended for a job).

Anyways, something that I added in this semester’s emails was a question about the textbook. After finding out what I needed from the online bookstore, I emailed the professor for that class and asked a few things:

  • Is the textbook really required?
  • Am I able to purchase the textbook from retailers other than the bookstore?
  • If so, are there worksheets in the textbook that I will need for class?

The last question is important because if the professor says yes, then I may be hesitant to buy used from Amazon because they cannot guarantee that all worksheets are present.

I hope my tips helped you in your college textbook hunt! If you have any other tips, or would like to let me know the outcome of these strategies, please put them down in the comments below!



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