The Battle Of College Textbooks Begins Anew

A new academic year has kicked off, bringing an old issue back to focus.

While most parents diligently pony up the majority of funds to purchase all of the prescribed textbooks on a student's book list, the reality is that less than two-thirds (65%) of college students buy all of the textbooks assigned by their professors. Nearly a third (32%) pick and choose what to buy, and a small but growing number prefer to rent their textbooks from startups such as Chegg and CourseSmart.

Professors provide the primary motivation for what they do and don't buy (a factor cited by 67% of collegians); however, factors such as the degree to which they expect the book to be used (63%) and the price of the book or material (51%) also determine whether a student decides to plunk down an average of $57 for a textbook.

The hesitancy to buy all prescribed textbooks is well founded. At the end of the spring term, we asked whether students actually used all of the textbooks that they had bought. Merely a quarter (25%) used all of the textbooks they had purchased at the start of the spring 2009 semester, while another two out of five (41%) used most of them. Fewer than one out of three (31%) wound up using merely some of the textbooks that they purchased.



As more and more attention is focused on the high and growing cost of college education, textbooks have become a vigorous topic of debate. Last year, members of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce asked the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance to conduct a study on the rising cost of textbooks and recommend ways to bring those costs under control.

The vast majority of college students (92%) agree with the statement, "Textbooks are too expensive." Conversely, little more than one in ten (12%) agrees with the statement "Textbooks represent good value for money."

While students agree with statements like, "Textbooks are relevant to the courses I take" (67% agree / 9% disagree) and "Textbooks are essential for academic success" (49% / 28%), grievances to which students relate include statements such as, "Textbooks are cumbersome and difficult to carry" (69% / 13%), "Textbooks are bloated with unnecessary content' (64% / 19%), "Textbook enhancements (CDs / Web sites) are unnecessary" (45% / 29%), "The chapters within textbooks are too long" (48% / 17%) and "Textbooks are daunting and difficult to read" (40% / 33%). Sentiment with the statement "I don't need to read the textbook in order to get an A" was balanced between the 36% that agreed and the 34% that disagreed. Ouch!

Electronic textbooks really haven't found much of a foothold, with fewer than 7% of students having ever purchased a textbook in electronic format. This lack of adoption has much to do with digital rights management, limiting the comfort level that publishers feel in releasing textbooks in this format. Gen Y has little sympathy for the creators and owners of digital content, feeling that once it has been digitized, it's fair to share.

As was the case with music, the solution to the textbook problem may be device-centric. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Amazon's pilot to bring textbooks to the Kindle DX at seven campuses this fall and McGraw-Hill Education's plans to bring 100 college textbooks to the Kindle and Kindle DX platform bring solutions to the price and weight of what's in students' backpacks. Meanwhile, CourseSmart has brought more than 7,000 titles to Apple's iPod Touch and iPhone platforms.

As a new school year begins, we're looking forward to measuring the results of these bold new approaches.

7 comments about "The Battle Of College Textbooks Begins Anew ".
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  1. Leslie Rasimas, September 11, 2009 at 12:25 p.m.

    Appalachian State University in NC rented text books like a library each semester. It saved each student hundreds of dollars, and reduces waste. Why hasn't each university in the country adopted this system?

  2. Green Textbooks from, September 12, 2009 at 4:21 a.m.

    I would suggest using
    Save Money, Save The Planet specializes in the recycling of textbooks, DVDs, CDs. Buying used textbooks not only saves you money, but cuts down on greenhouse gases caused by the manufacturing of new textbooks.
    With you're not only saving trees, you are saving some green.

  3. Anne Peterson from Idaho Public Televsion, September 12, 2009 at 12:59 p.m.

    Nearly 50 years after my undergraduate years, I can still relate to the prevalent complaints about textbooks and would have then -- and now -- checked "agree." As to whether you need or don't need them to get an A in a class, depends entirely on the class and/or the teacher. We had some classes where the teacher was required by the department head (who may have written the text) to assign the textbook but never used it. Others, when I lost a book for most of a semester or stopped reading it in disgust, I could still earn an A or a B. Still others, the textbook was essential. I suspect that hasn't changed either. I certainly bought used whenever possible and sometimes borrowed from someone who had previously taken the course. Today, I am intrigued by the Web-based textbooks that you can buy a chapter at a time in PDF format as you need them.

  4. Cbd Qq1 from sony, September 14, 2009 at 6:16 a.m.

    You can also check out , DealOz compares 200 bookstore prices and free discount coupons too. Their coupons are valid and have saved over $500 on my textbooks.

  5. Patrick Aievoli from, LLC, September 14, 2009 at 2:43 p.m.

    I been talking about this since 1987. What has taken so long? SGML to HTML get it. Been around since 1977. You can't hold back the tide ya gotta learn to surf!!!!!
    I was at MH in 1980's we built a CD-ROM then. I've been waiting for more since then. I left and went into academia for the last 23 years. Full time tenured and they still don't listen.
    Been psoting websites since 1993, real ones with images and shockwave files. What has taken so long?

  6. Cbd Qq1 from sony, September 14, 2009 at 9:08 p.m.

    You can also check out , DealOz compares 200 bookstore prices and free discount coupons too. Their coupons are valid and have saved over $500 on my textbooks.

  7. Tony Anderson from Incline Video, September 16, 2009 at 6:48 p.m.

    Good one Dan! Anne- I could not agree more...beg borrow or steal is the motto today among many students. Google Books has a few here and there.

    Tony Anderson
    Gen-Y Media Inc.

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