According to the College Board, the average undergraduate student should budget between $1,200 and $1,300 for textbooks and supplies each year. That’s as much as 40% of tuition at a two-year community college and 13% at a four-year public institution.
Since 1978, college textbook costs have increased 812%. To put that in context, it means that textbook prices have increased at 3.2 times the rate of inflation.
For many students and families already struggling to afford a college degree, that is simply too much – meaning more debt, working longer hours, or making choices that undermine academic success.
First, just five textbook publishers control more than 90% of the $8.8 billion market. As a result, these companies are protected from serious market competition.
At the same time, traditional textbook publisher benefit from a fundamental market flaw in the college textbook market. Unlike a typical market, there is no direct interaction between the producer and the consumer. With normal markets, like the automobile market, the consumer exercises control over prices by choosing to purchase products that priced best for their value. This consumer choice forces producers to price their products competitively.
In the textbook market, this consumer control is eliminated by the fact that the professor, not the student/consumer selects the product, and the student/consumer actually expends the money. Because of this, the student is a captive market, and traditional publishers are able to drive continually prices higher without fear of market repercussion.
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