Here's Exactly Why College Textbooks Are So Expensive

March 12th 2015

ATTN: has released a new video examining the high costs of college textbooks: 


In 2015, the average student will spend more than $1,000 on textbooks – an 812% increase over the previous generation. Textbook costs are rapidly increasing overall student debt, with 70% of college students now saying they will not purchase one or more required textbooks due to cost concerns.

Why are textbooks so expensive?

  • Half of their costs go straight to publishers and university bookstores. ·
  • New editions are constantly released, driving up prices (even though a 2008 report found that revisions to these books are frequently unnecessary).
  • Publishers will bundle textbooks with other materials such as CD-ROMS and study guides, which are not always used, and equally as expensive.

ATTN: also spoke with Ethan Senack, a federal higher education advocate for US Public Interest Research Group about his thoughts on rising textbook prices. 

Q. Why exactly are textbooks so expensive... does course curricula really change that much from year to year?

A. Textbooks are so expensive because professors assign specific editions and just five publishers have a lock on the market. That means they're able to drive up prices without fear of market competitors. The content of some courses changes, but not nearly enough to justify brand new print editions—sometimes every two years—that carry such high prices.

Q. Who is getting rich from textbooks?

A. According to the National Association of College Stores, more than 77 cents of every dollar spent on textbooks go to publishers. Of those 77 cents, the publishing company makes about 18 cents in pure profit, while spending 15 cents on marketing, and roughly 32 percent to cover costs (paper, printing, employee salaries, etc). At the same time, the author - the person who dedicated hundreds of hours of research to write the book – only gets about 12 cents on the dollar on average.

Q. Is there a policy solution?

A. Absolutely. Senators Durbin and Franken (and Congressmen Miller and Hinojosa) introduced a bill called the "Affordable College Textbooks Act." The bill supports the development of open textbooks - which are exactly like traditional textbooks, but they're released under an open license. Why does that matter? Because they're totally free to access online, free to download, and only around $20 for a hard copy. Open textbooks have the potential to break the traditional publishers' lock on the market - and they can save students billions of dollars without sacrificing quality.

Q. Ok, but Congress might very well not pass anything soon. Are there any practical steps that students can take in the meantime to save money?

A. There are hundreds of open textbooks available right now, but we need to spread the word. Students should talk to their professors about adopting an open textbook in their class. Check out the Open Textbook Catalog to see if there's a book available for your class. In the meantime, students need to be smart consumers. "There are many cost-saving options available right now: students can rent books at most bookstores, search for lower-cost e-textbooks, buy older editions instead of the most current, or join a bookswap and purchase directly from other students. If those options are still too expensive, students should inquire at their campus library: copies of textbooks are often kept on file for public access.

Share your opinion

Do you think schools should embrace open textbooks, rental books, and electronic versions?

No 2%Yes 98%