Why Do College Textbooks Cost So Much?
Andrew Gelman wonders about the mystery of $150 textbooks.
[I]t’s commonplace for students to pay well over $100 for introductory textbooks.
[…]It just mystifies me that, in all these different fields, it’s considered acceptable to charge $150 for a textbook. I’d think that all you need is one cartel-breaker in each field and all the prices would come tumbling down. But apparently not. I just don’t understand.
First, as Bob Carpenter points out in the commons, most professors don’t even know, much less consider, the price students will pay for books when selecting them for their courses. (Steven Taylor and I were exceptions to that rule but few of our colleagues much cared about price.) Therefore, textbooks compete against other textbooks only when profs are choosing them; the students then either buy the book or not.
Second, and more oddly, a given textbook does have to compete, within no time at all, with used copies of itself. Not only are the free review copies that Gellman and his cohorts receive often sold off to book dealers for resale but, of course, students tend to sell their books back to the store at a ridiculous markdown. Once a book has been in circulation for a semester, much less a school year, only a small fraction of students (mostly, those getting their books “free” through some sort of scholarship) actually buy it new. So, the publisher has to make all its money on the first sale in order to make it worthwhile.
Photo by Flickr user hoosadork, used under Creative Commons license.