The True Cost of College Textbooks… And What Needs to Change

Why on earth does a two inch stack of paper cost money-strapped college students hundreds of dollars? While we can debate about the overhead of running a publishing system that requires a ton of middlemen, editors, etc., the cost of textbooks is certainly not because of the dead trees required to print the books. For this reason, hoping that eTextbooks will solve the problem is wishful thinking: they will not make the ‘system’ of a large textbook publisher vanish.

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The First Problem: Cost
The price and format of textbooks (and eTextbooks) also creates a whole new set of problems for students. Most importantly, students will actually try to get through a course without buying the textbook. A survey from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group found that 7 in 10 college students have skipped buying a textbook at least once because of the cost! It’s no surprise that students come to this decision when their textbook bill comes to an average of $561 every semester.

Which Leads To: Lower Priorities
When students make the decision that they are not going to buy a textbook for a course, it automatically sets the stage for their future priorities with that course. The textbook is not sticking out of their bag on a regular basis, sitting on their desk, or being lugged around in their arms to remind them of their commitment to learn. That course then begins to slip in their minds. The courses they did buy the textbook for begin to overshadow their commitment to the course with the costly textbook. Not to mention that in our modern world Twitter, Facebook, and World of Warcraft, look a lot more interesting than a course with a textbook that was not purchased. In fact, students already spend more than double the amount of time on leisure and work related activities than they spend on academic activities. In short, if your course has a costly textbook you can be sure than a large portion of your class will not buy the book… which leads to them being more likely to lower the priority of your course.

Self-published Course Packs to the Answer!
This is why faculty such as Dr. John Strange at the University of South Alabama have resorted to digital course packs. He teaches his EDM 310 class on bloogspot and makes all of the class materials available in posts. The students’ course material costs are greatly reduced and the course is constantly at the top of their mind in the form of tweets, emails, an posts… the same thing students have been doing in place of studying a textbook! This is why we started Ginkgotree. Rather than having to use a blog, educators should have a simple tool specifically designed to make course packets. Additionally, while the internet is full of free content, there are always going to be times that copyrighted materials need to be used in a course. So we built in copyright clearance. For roughly $.10 per page, educators can include parts of a book, a journal article, or newspaper article in their course packs.We are a bootsrapped startup of four building a collaborative course packet tool that will empower educators everywhere to easily publish course materials to their students digitally, socially, and at a drastically reduced fee. Want to get on board when we launch? Let us know!

1 Comment

  • Joey G. says:

    You bring up good points about the cost of college textbooks and i know that most students don’t understand why publishers and bookstores charge so much. It is important to find the cheapest textbooks though because college does have it’s huge expensive costs. I came across this website that might help continue find info.

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