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Why are college textbooks so expensive?

The price of a college textbook can be $200-$300 if not more

ATLANTA — ATLANTA – College students have many challenges as they return to class during the COVID-19 pandemic, and one of those challenges is the rising cost of textbooks.

It’s tough to take a class without the required textbook. Those books can cost $300 dollars apiece, and sometimes even more.

When I make the choice to actually buy a textbook, I have to make sure I have enough money in my account,” says Prabhdeep Rai, coordinator for the Make Textbooks Affordable campaign at U.C.L.A. “If not, I have to make sure to work extra hours which ultimately takes away a lot more time from my studies.”

A 2013 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office says textbook prices increased 82% over a ten year period. Let’s look at why they’ve gotten so expensive.

One issue is that three publishers control roughly 80% of the market.

“There’s a lack of competition,” says Daniel Williamson of OpenStax, an organization that provides free textbooks for students. “Textbook publishers have consolidated over the last thirty to forty years. Without competition, you can expect dramatic increases in cost.”

The digital age means many professors are offering material on-line. In some cases, students have to purchase access codes to see the textbook and homework assignments. The codes are single-use, so you can’t buy them used, sell them back to the bookstore, or share them with a classmate.

“The average access code costs $100,” says Kaitlyn Vitez of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “You can’t keep the materials, so that money just gets flushed down the drain at the end of the semester.”

To ease the burden, many professors are offering “open” books. Groups like OpenStax use grant money to pay authors and editors, then make the books free to students.

“We’re competing directly with publishers who are charging $200-$300 for a textbook,” says Williamson. “That puts pressure on them to lower their prices.”

The University of Georgia was recently ranked the number two school in the country for saving students money by offering free books from OpenStax.