Joni, an undergraduate student at Georgia State University in Atlanta who didn’t want to give her last name, said she looks for cheaper course materials whenever possible.


“I’ve been at GSU for several years now, and like many other students I’ve found ways around paying high prices at the bookstore,” she said. “One required book was $150, but I bought the international softcover edition on eBay for about $35.”


Breaking the bank to buy books

Indeed, if you’ve shopped for college textbooks, chances are you’ve felt a similar sticker shock. The price of college textbooks can be exorbitant, reaching as high as $1,740 for a philosophy book and $1,510 for a four-volume set on international media and communications. Even without having to purchase rare tomes, the average college student spends $1,100 a year on books.


Granted, there are other options. In most cases, used books can be found online or in college bookstores if you shop early enough. A recent surge of e-books, free literature downloads, and book rental sites (coursesmart, chegg, bookstop) have helped to defray the high cost of college textbooks. Some sites even offer a buy-by-the-chapter service.


But the fact is, the cost of college textbooks increased at double the rate of inflation from 1986-2004. Textbook costs can also reflect up to 72 percent of the cost of tuition and fees for a full time student at a public institution, and are increasing at about six percent per year on average. 


The US Government Accountability Office conducted research to determine the cause of rising textbook prices. In a report summary the office stated that, “the increasing costs associated with developing products designed to accompany textbooks, such as CD-ROMs and other supplements best explain price increases in recent years. Publishers say they have increased investments in developing supplements in response to demand from instructors.” 


Open Educational Resources

Regardless of the cause for high textbook prices, this trend has become a growing concern garnering attention from Congress, the media, the publishing industry, schools and private foundations. 


The open textbook movement aims to address the problem with a grassroots movement calling on publishers, teachers and activists to promote the creation and use of open textbooks and other educational resources.


Open textbooks are freely available books with nonrestrictive licenses that cover a wide range of disciplines, available in digital and printable formats. Incorporating open textbooks into a curriculum can significantly reduce the cost of education, address the challenge of book shortages, and make textbooks more accessible and modifiable for various educational needs.


More resources

In February 2007, ISKME created and launched OER Commons to offer support and build a knowledge base around the use and reuse of open educational resources (OER).


OER Commons acts as a network for teachers and students to engage through social bookmarking, tagging, rating and reviewing materials. With more than 120 major content partners, the site offers a point of access for a constantly growing collection containing more than 24,000 items.


OERs range in size from peer-reviewed and updated textbooks to complete lesson plans and college courses. The commonality is that they can all be used, reused and modified due to unrestricted or limited licensing rights.


Open textbooks are a newly emerging development in the worldwide OER movement. There are many sites offering open textbooks, including Gutenberg, the first producer of free e-books. Flat World Knowledge is the world’s largest publisher of free and open college textbooks, and Manybooks offers free e-books in several languages. Assayer lists books whose authors have made them available for free. 


As colleges and schools across the country test the waters with OERs, concerns have arisen regarding the sustainability of open textbooks. While most people would agree that open textbooks are ideal for financially-burdened students, taking book royalties and licensing privileges out of the picture could lead to a drastic reduction in quality textbooks.


Got other ideas for how to get textbooks for less money? Share your comments with us below.

Sarah F. Berkowitz Sarah F. Berkowitz was born in Jerusalem, raised in Detroit, and currently lives in Atlanta with her Manhattan born and bred husband. Her dream of becoming a psychologist was traded in for a laptop and chef’s hat when she decided to pursue her passion for writing and food. Sarah enjoys cooking, trying to get food to stay still for a good photo, and convincing her kids that they're lucky to have a chef as a mom. (They're still waiting for dinner.)

Why are textbooks so expensive?
Indeed, if you've shopped for college textbooks, chances are you've felt a similar sticker shock. The price of college textbooks can be exorbitant, reaching as