Each year College Board comes out with breakdowns of the costs of college including, room and board, tuition, and the focus of this article: textbooks. Textbook prices are on the rise, and I am out to figure out the reasoning behind this. According to the National Association of College Stores, in 2007 textbooks costed $57, on average. By 2013, the average textbook cost rose to almost $80.
The image below is a graph published by College Board to represent average "textbook" prices. It is based on data collected through the annual financial survey of college stores.
So, why is the happening?
For starters, what do we define as a textbook? College stores define a "textbook" as
any book or other media that is required or recommended for class." While, English majors often require novels rather than the standard textbook. Novels required for English courses will usually cost under $10 each, while a standard textbook can cost over $100. If English classes are requiring less novels than they used to, this would bring up the cost of the average textbook. Furthermore, as technology increases professors are requiring students to purchases access codes for online textbook resources when they buy their textbooks. These access codes raise the prices the textbook significantly. So, this increase in the cost of the average textbook may be skewed information. Perhaps it is not that textbook prices are increasing, but that different "textbooks" are now required.
Another reason for the rise in textbook prices could be due to an increase in the price of resources needed to produce textbooks. These resources include paper, ink, authors, printing machines, publishers, and more. Digging a little deeper, paper is made from wood pulp. In a recent article, IBISWorld concluded that the price of paper has in fact risen because the price of wood pulp is on the rise. In 2015, global wood pulp prices surpassed its previous peak cost, which was in 2011. Not only does this increase the cost of manufacturing textbooks, but also the cost of manufacturing the packaging to ship textbooks, increasing textbook production costs from multiple angles. These production costs then get passed on to consumers.
Of course, consumers want the best deal, and this often means buying from third parties, such as Amazon or Chegg, rather than the college bookstore. College bookstore owners know this, and need to prepare not to sell their full supply. Thus, they increase the price of textbooks, so that when textbooks are left unsold the store does not lose money. From an economic perspective, this is the class supply and demand curve. As demand from the bookstore decreases, supply increases, and thus so does the average price.
What does this mean for consumers? Well, if all consumers banned together and bought books from the college bookstore rather than third party sites, prices for textbooks might decrease, but the prices might decrease to the same price the third party sites are already offering, and it is highly unlikely that all consumers will agree to this. It really means that, yes, you will have to continue to be stealthy when purchasing your books because a lot of variables go into the price of your textbook.