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Why Do College Books Cost So Much?

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College Books

College Books

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Question: Why Do College Books Cost So Much?
In high school, books were generally provided by the school district at tax payer expense. Not so in college. Many new college students are shocked to find that their college textbooks can cost over $1,000 a year. This article helps explain the cost.

Also be sure to read the article on how to save money on college books.

Answer: College books are not cheap. An individual book may cost well over $100, sometimes closer to $200. The cost of books for a year of college can easily top $1,000. This is true whether you attend a pricey private university or an inexpensive community college.

The reasons books cost so much are many:

  • Sheer number - Compared to high school, a semester of college uses a lot more books. You'll have longer reading assignments and many courses will assign readings from more than one book.
  • Copyright - The publishers of large anthologies of recent writings need to pay copyright fees to every author in the book. A poetry anthology for a literature class, for example, may involve clearing hundreds of copyrights.
  • Highly specialized material - Many college textbooks are highly specialized and the material is unavailable in any other book. The low volume of published books and the lack of market competition drive publishers to jack up prices.
  • Online companions - Many textbooks are complemented by online resources. The subscription fee is built in to the cost of the book.
  • Supplies - For art, lab and science classes, the estimated cost of books often includes supplies, lab necessities and calculators
  • Lack of used textbooks - Publishers make no money when too many used books are in circulation. As a consequence, they will often release new editions every few years in order to make the used books obsolete.
  • Review and desk copies - Book publishers make money only when college professors adopt their books. This often means that they send free review copies to potential instructors. The cost of this practice is offset by the high price students pay for books.
  • Faculty control - In high school, the choice of books if often decided by a department or committee. Price and negotiations with publishers may be part of this process. In college, individual faculty members usually have complete control over their choice of books. Not all professors are sensitive to cost, and some will even assign expensive books they authored themselves (sometimes collecting royalties in the process).

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