Why Are College Textbooks So Absurdly Expensive?
You thought the rising cost of college tuition was bad? Then check out the rising cost of college textbooks. The American Enterprise Institute’s Mark Perry has put together this chart showing the egregious, 812 percent rise in the cost of course materials since 1978, as captured in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s consumer price index data. The price of all those Intro to Sociology and Calculus books have shot up faster than health-care, home prices, and, of course, inflation.
Politicalprof: God I hate these “analyses.”
Speaking as an actual professor with 22 1/2 years of experience in this matter:
1. I ALWAYS CONSIDER THE PRICE OF A TEXT. So does pretty much everyone else I know. The “the professors don’t think about price” comment is both tired and intellectually lazy.
2. I HAVE NEVER BUNDLED A TEXT TO SOFTWARE OR SUPPLEMENTS. I know that’s a game, too. Bundles are not why prices go up.
3. THESE PIECES NEVER DISCUSS THE USED BOOK MARKET IN A REAL WAY. As a simple fact, the used book market means that the sales cycle of any new book today is all of one semester. After that, the book is in the used book market (even without evil bundles), and neither the author nor the publisher sees another penny. So publishers (and trust me, it’s the publishers who push this) act “rationally” and jack their prices up every new edition, all while pumping out new editions as fast as possible. Books used to have sales cycles of several years. Now they have sales cycles of one semester.
Ironically, then, the act students take to save money (selling and buying used books) drives the cost of books ever upwards.
This is economics, people, not speculation. It may lead to books pricing themselves out of a market, or, more likely, to the emergence of lower-cost alternatives. (As an aside, when I discussed a FREE online alternative with my class, they admitted they basically never use e-books, so I don’t think that’s a real alternative yet.) But it’s why prices go up, not mystery bundles.
Are textbook prices a problem? Yes. But to fix the problem one needs to understand it, and dumb analyses like these in no way lend themselves to understanding or solving the problem.