University’s rise in textbook prices match national trend 

William Medeiros, Contributing Writer

It is no secret that textbooks seem overpriced. According to educationdata.org, between 1977 and 2015 the cost of textbooks for college-level education increased by over tenfold. The University is no exception, with many students reporting sizable costs for their course materials. 

The total price incidence varies heavily by students’ intended/declared major and which specific section of a class they enroll in. Some students, such as engineers, benefit from purchasing textbooks – they can utilize one textbook for multiple classes and semesters. Others are not so lucky. 

Paige Deertz ’23, a junior majoring in Psychology and Studio Art, rented four physical textbooks from Barnes & Noble at Bucknell University. Her total bill was roughly $400. 

“[It’s] annoying to rent textbooks for a large sum of money, only to find out that some of my classes barely utilize, if not ignore, the texts for class instruction,” she said.

Don Royal, regional manager for Barnes & Noble College, responded to the Bucknellian’s inquiry on the matter with the following statement:

 “The pandemic has had a profound impact on higher education and on the entire publishing industry. The disruptions to product availability; supply chain issues; increased costs for paper, materials, delivery and labor; as well as factory closures have impacted textbook costs.”

“Our mission is to help students succeed – and ensuring they have access to the most affordable course materials is core to that commitment,” he added. “Our role as the bookstore is to provide the course materials that faculty select for their classes each term. That includes content from over 6,000 publishers as well as custom course materials.”

We work closely with publishers to maintain an industry-leading selection of affordable textbooks, allowing students and faculty to choose from the flexibly priced rental, digital and used textbook offerings.”

Royal also pointed to the ‘Price Match’ Program, which allows students to use a lower price from another bookstore that they may have found instead of the listed price at the University bookstore. 

Illuminating statistics from educationdata.com provide some context with regards to the monopolistic behaviors in the textbook industry. Pre-COVID, the publishing industry has seen a gradual decline in the higher education sector, from $4.5 billion in 2015 to $3.23 billion in 2019.

The initial impact of COVID on the higher education divisions of these publishers has been significant, but they are easily bouncing back with their digital learning products. 

Pearson, an education and media giant, saw a 32 percent growth in Q3 of 2020. With the pandemic straining supply chains and increasing physical textbook prices, the shift to digital resources for higher education has also seen increased growth. Cengage saw a 40 percent year-over-year growth in online resources since the pandemic began, with digital sales now offsetting the loss in revenues from declining hard copy book sales.

That being said, many believe that paper textbooks and resources are more beneficial for students’ learning needs. 

Biology professor Steve Jordan explained that he recognizes that textbooks can be a huge financial burden on students. 

“We often use older versions of the textbook that can be purchased at much lower prices,” he said. “Newer editions of some textbooks are not radically different from old versions, and so inexpensive editions work just fine, especially in introductory courses.” 

He continued, “I recognize that there are students who may learn just fine from e-textbooks, while others do much better with a physical copy of the book. I personally prefer to spend as little time on screens as possible, and I prefer the convenience of paper. But if students honestly feel like they can properly focus on an e-text, and learn from it, then I trust them to decide, of course.”

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