EducationHigher EducationPop Quiz

Pop Quiz: The Horror of Textbook Prices

At the beginning of a new semester there is always a little bit of excitement in the air. Everyone looks fresh faced and ready to take on the subject at hand. I notice that as I pass out the syllabus and we go through it the students attentively listen with hope in their eyes for that golden A at the end of the semester tunnel. That is until I tell them they need to buy this $100.00 lab manual that has maybe 100 pages in it and cannot be sold back at the end of the semester (not my choice.) Then faces turn sour and the hands begin to shoot up asking the same question every time.

“Can we share lab manuals. I cannot afford another $100.00”

To which I sigh and tell them that I cannot stop them from doing that but if their partner forgets their book I do not have copies to give them. Sometimes this works and sometimes it is a disaster.

In my opinion the price of textbooks has gone way out of control. I know of one textbook in use at one of my colleges that the price is actually more than the price of the course. If I were a student in that course I have no clue how I would pay for the book. It is hard enough for the students to find the money for tuition let alone a ridiculously priced textbook. I have seen several times a student that just cannot buy the book but still takes the course hoping the lecture material will be enough to get them through it.

I have always thought that if the colleges stop using these high priced books this may drag the prices down. However, I have no idea what the cost breakdown for these books are.  I only know that the one semester when I was allowed to create my own lab manual for a course the cost was nothing more than paper and binding and it was cheap.

Does anyone know the breakdown of textbook costs? Do you think that the costs of textbooks are horribly inflated? How do you help a student who just cannot afford the textbook?

The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it to appear Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons (ET).


Featured Image: A shelf full of books. Source: Wesleying


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JoDee is an adjunct faculty instructor of astronomy and physics at various colleges around her hometown in the midwest. When she is not trying to get her cat, Pixel, off of her laptop she is observing variable stars and researching black holes.


  1. March 8, 2014 at 11:48 am —

    I don’t think anyone is happy about the increase in textbook costs; I’m not sure even the publishers are happy since they are so despised now among educators and students alike, and everyone is fighting to circumvent them. From the instructor’s perspective, I find it endlessly frustrating when students just decide not to purchase the books I assign. I’m teaching literature and philosophy. You need to read that shit for yourself. I try very hard to limit book costs by choosing editions that are cheaper and that offer ebook options, etc. I also usually order copies of all my assigned books for the school library. I understand that books are expensive–and I support all steps to ameliorate that problem–but in the meantime, all I can tell my students is that if they can’t afford books they can’t afford college. They will find it very, very difficult to pass literature without the books. I imagine lab manuals are similarly crucial. When they come to me and say they didn’t buy the book because it’s expensive, I’m not unsympathetic as a person, but I can’t accommodate them as an instructor. How can I? Tuition at my college is very cheap–among the cheapest in the country, especially for liberal arts programs.

    In addition, I refuse to sell my desk copies and review copies to the jackals who slink around academic offices and offer 20 bucks for them so they can resell them. I think it’s shady business and only serves to jack up the prices for everyone else even more.

    All that said, I feel like this issue is coming to a crisis soon. My guess is that we’re on the brink of going mostly digital somehow. I know several publishers are investigating relationships with colleges to provide all their digital course content.

    • March 8, 2014 at 7:18 pm —

      Last time I taught our music appreciation class, which requires an obscenely expensive textbook (along with an even more obscenely expensive CD set) some enterprising individual WHO IS DEFINITELY NOT ME uploaded a torrent to the Pirate Bay.

      I do always make sure to remind students that these modes of acquisition do exist, even if I 100% DO NOT ENDORSE THEM IN MY OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS PROFESSOR. But having to pay $250 for the set is just ridiculous. It would be vastly cheaper for the students to buy all the recordings on iTunes!

  2. March 9, 2014 at 10:37 am —

    I don’t feel the least bit sorry when I direct my students to alternative access points for course material. I always provide the ISBNs with my text list so they can easily search Amazon marketplace, for example. But there’s only so much I can do. They have to read, you know?

    • March 11, 2014 at 10:17 am —

      For a literature class I can appreciate the necessity of buying the books. You kinda need them to read the stories. For some of my classes though it is a bit different. In one of the astronomy courses I teach the department head is nice enough to not make the book mandatory and I am allowed to give the students the choice with the understanding that no homework will come from the book and all exams will be from my lecture. I think maybe one student in the past year has bought the book and that was by accident. However, at another school I teach at they make it mandatory that the students by the book. If they catch me giving alternative sources for where to get the book to my students I get in BIG trouble. I know this because I have gotten into BIG trouble doing this. Doesn’t seem right to me.

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