Sustainability is about ecology, economy and equity.- Ralph Bicknese

Cutting Back on Textbook Cost


meme_textbookWhen you’re picking classes, how much do you base your decisions off of what textbooks for certain courses will cost you? It’s a shame that any of us have to take this into account at all, but the unfortunate truth is that textbook cost is very often, well, ridiculous. Perhaps you’ve even tried to get through a class sans-textbook, relying on notes and friendly classmates who are willing to lend you theirs from time to time (I sound a little too familiar with this practice don’t I?). According to one study, college textbook prices have risen at four times the rate of inflation over the past twenty years. College Board estimates that students spend an average of 1,200 dollars on textbooks every year. That’s one-tenth the cost of a university’s yearly tuition, and one-third the cost of a community college’s. Woah.

Students at UW have been asking professors to seek out cheaper alternatives, with an emphasis on open textbooks, which have been licensed under an open copyright and are often available online for little to no money. The stigma, of course, is that the quality of these open textbooks will be no match for the books produced by major publishers, but Quill West, a specialist hired by Tacoma Community College to help professors in the finding of these online books, says that quality open textbooks do exist, they’re just harder to track down due to their placement outside of the marketing spotlight. In my experience, it seems that a lot of the time these big expensive textbooks we have to get aren’t even used that often. Much of the information that is found in them can be heard in class-and research projects are often more concerned with scholarly texts found in online databases that anything the textbook has to offer. It seems to me that the use of open textbooks is not only a very helpful idea, but one that isn’t at all outside the realm of practicality.

How much do you spend on books every year, and what do you think about the option of open textbooks?

2 thoughts on “Cutting Back on Textbook Cost

  1. It’s amazing how textbook costs add up every year. Textbooks seem to be expensive because students are a captive audience (they just need to buy the book if they want to pass the exam), but like you say I hope that technology is changing that.

    You didn’t mention libraries in your post, it would be interesting to know your opinion. Do you think college libraries don’t offer good enough provision and that students are ‘forced’ to buy books in the US?


    • In my experience, the books required for a course are rarely found in the library, and if they are, there are only one or two copies of them available, which are quickly snatched up by the first student to get there. It does seem like students are forced into buying books in many cases, but thankfully the trend of approved alternatives seems to be growing.