New Report Exposes Publishing Industry Tactics That Drive Up the Cost of College Textbooks

For Immediate Release

BOSTON, Mass. (February 8, 2007) – Students are still paying too much for their textbooks, as book prices skyrocket at four times the rate of inflation, according to the new report from the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group.  

“Many students are already really struggling to pay their way through college,” said Saffron Zomer, program director for MASSPIRG. “The last thing they need is to shell out hundreds of dollars more each year to buy textbooks. The numbers are really shocking – the average student spends $900 on books each year – that’s 20% of the tuition and fees at a four year public university. We need to let the publishers know that students won’t continue to pay for their unfair business practices.”

The new report from MASSPIRG, entitled "Exposing the Textbooks Industry: How Publishers' Pricing Tactics Drive Up the Cost of College Textbooks," highlights one major cause for the artificially high prices – publishers don’t provide clear information about their prices to faculty. Less than half the professors MASSPIRG surveyed said that the publishers’ website which they used to research their textbooks typically lists price information, and 77% said that when they meet with publishers sales representatives, they rarely or never volunteer the price. 94% of the faculty MASSPIRG surveyed reported that they would take cost into consideration when choosing their textbooks, but many of them do not know how much the books they assign actually cost. “Publishers’ sales representatives rarely volunteer the price of their books, and it’s highly variable whether or not you can find that information on the publishers’ websites” said Zomer.

The common practice of bundling textbooks was also found to drive up the cost of textbooks. ‘Bundling’ refers to the practice of shrink-wrapping additional materials such as a CDROM or workbook to the text, and currently effects about half the textbooks on shelves. MASSPIRG found that many professors are not able to order the book they want without the additional materials, even when they don’t intend to use them in class. “From a student perspective the bundles are frustrating” said Zomer, “because, as well as having to pay for materials that aren’t used in class, the bundled books are very hard to sell back at the end of the course if anything from the bundle is lost or used.” 

 “Obviously the solutions to this problem are long term” concluded Zomer. “However, proposed legislation in several states requiring publishers to disclose clearly the price of their books, and give faculty proper options and information about bundled books, is a very important step forward. These measures will be beneficial to faculty and students immediately and let the publishers know that they need to rethink the way they do business.”


MASSPIRG is a statewide nonprofit, nonpartisan public interest organization dedicated to environmental protection, consumer rights, and good government. The full report is available at