No, that headline is not missing a decimal point. College textbook prices have increased a staggering 1,041 percent since 1977. That’s over three times the rate of inflation. What on earth is going on?
Students have heard for years about the professor who writes a textbook and then requires his classes to buy that book. That doesn’t happen a lot, but it does highlight the fact that students are stuck with buying whatever the professor wants them to have. Nicole Allen, spokesperson for the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, says: “They’ve been able to keep raising prices because students are ‘captive consumers.’ They have to buy whatever books they’re assigned.”
Some liken the problem with textbook prices to the problem with drug prices, and it’s a fair analogy. In each case, the person getting the product has little or no input on what product they receive. The manufacturer of the product expends a lot of effort to convince the person who makes the decision on what product to use — a doctor in the case of drugs, a professor in the case of textbooks — that their product is the right one for the patient or student.
Of course, textbook publishers disagree that the dramatic increase is a problem, saying that the Bureau of Labor Statistics data, which is where the information comes from, does not paint an accurate picture. Referring to what is known as the “rule of small numbers,” Maria Bluestone, of the Association of American Publishers, says that when a textbook increases from $100 to $200 that gets reported as a 100 percent increase, but when tuition goes from $10,000 to $11,000, that’s only a 10 percent increase.
But the percentage increase in textbook prices is not the main issue, says economics professor Mark Perry. Perry tells NBC News that “College textbook prices are increasing way more than parents’ ability to pay for them.” Which makes the cost of textbooks yet another piece of the puzzle for many families who are struggling with college costs.
Despite the fact that textbook prices continue to rise, some students are actually paying less for their books by doing things such as buying used books, or renting them. The Internet also offers opportunities for students to save on textbooks by purchasing them on sites such as Amazon, and ebay, something that their parents didn’t have available to them.
Here’s a video about the rise in textbook prices, and what students are doing to help save money on them, via NBC News:
Featured image via Patrick/Flickr