Why Are Textbooks So Expensive?

Arizona Federal Staff

Rise and shine – it’s about that time! The beginning of a brand new school year is ahead of you.

√ Pencils
√ Paper
√ Backpack
√ Calculator

There’s nothing like being fully prepared to be at your absolute best for what the school year is going to throw your way. While those four items listed above are definitely on the list of essentials, one major item is missing from the list: Textbooks!

While the act of going into the bookstore and picking up what’s needed for upcoming classes used to suffice, students are now finding themselves at a crossroads – purchasing very expensive textbooks they’ll most likely use for only a few months or trying to find ways to succeed in the classroom without buying the book. A recent study by the Government Accountability Office states, “Between 2002 and 2013, the price of college textbooks rose 82 percent — nearly three times the rate of inflation.

What does this mean for you, the student? You face spending up to $1,200 a school year on textbooks. Some books range from $200 to $300 for just the one book. But why?

Only five publishers control about 80 percent of the textbook market, which means they can raise prices as they see fit. It doesn’t help that professors often ask you to purchase the most recent edition on the shelves, allowing your pockets to take a beating.

Research shows very few of the changes in “new editions” actually require the textbook to be updated every four years. (A new edition every four years? What a coincidence!) So, this is what it boils down: The textbook world is a world of its own. Unlike traditional markets that have to bow down to consumer input and aggressive competition, publishers can do as they like.

Before you go looking through your couch cushions, picking up extra shifts at work, or worse, going without, consider these alternatives.

  • Finding used textbooks in bookstores is a great way to save a few bucks, but the keyword there is “few.” You may not save a boatload of money buying a used textbook, but multiplied by several class over four (or more) years, the savings could be substantial.
  • Have you ever heard of Chegg, a website built on providing cheaper options for students to rent and purchase textbooks? You can save up to 90 percent off of the original purchase price if you are willing to do a little legwork. All of you procrastinators will have to plan ahead to make sure your books are delivered to you before the first day of class. Just ship them back at the end of the semester and call it a day.
  • Looking for something less reliant on your ability to plan ahead? Ask and you shall receive! With most college courses, you can get a preview of what you’re in for online at How is this going to help you spend less? While looking for the most obvious perks, like whether yoga pants are acceptable or, a personal favorite, if you can eat in class, look for these two keywords, “open textbook.” No, this isn’t about cheating, but it will help you keep some of that hard-earned money to yourself. An open textbook is written by faculty and peer-edited, which can cut cost by 80 to 90 percent (think $20 to $40 per book). Most likely this book won’t be recreated for quite some time, meaning you can resell it at the end of the class. Awesome, right?

Whether you choose new, used or rental, getting the textbooks you need will require a little planning. Need extra help finding textbook money? Visit any Arizona Federal branch and allow a coach to assist you with setting up a spending plan to save for books. Or, for an online solution, check out Money Management inside CU Online or the Mobile App to track your spending habits to find extra money for books – or your other money goals.