The price of college textbooks is often disregarded in conversations about the total cost of higher education. Beyond tuition, housing, activities, and meal plans lie textbooks and other academic materials. They represent a significant line item on the college budget sheet but rarely get the attention they deserve.
According to 2021 data from College Board, full-time students attending a public, in-state school will spend an average of $4,640 on books, supplies, and transportation every year. And for those who have to choose between a $150 textbook and a week’s worth of groceries, many make the tough call to spend less on their academic materials.
Publishers answer with solutions
Over the past few years, higher education publishers have recognized these challenges and sought to create systems that increase access and affordability. For example, Inclusive Access incorporates the cost of class materials into the standard course fee, which encourages education professionals to order materials in bulk and bring the total cost down.
Another option is Cengage Unlimited. In 2018, Cengage, the largest higher education publisher, rolled out a subscription service for its academic titles, making its textbooks more affordable and accessible. For $179.99 per year — often cheaper than a single textbook — a student can access more than 20,000 Cengage titles.
And it has worked! (sort of)
According to the Association of American Publishers (AAP), students spent 22% less on textbooks during the 2021–22 academic year than the year prior. This represents a more significant trend of declining spending. Over the last decade, spending on textbooks dropped a whopping 48%. At the same time, AAP reports revenue for higher education books rose 2.8% during 2021, reaching $3.22 billion.
Kelly Denson, Vice President of Education Policy and Programs at AAP, stated, “Higher education publishers have continued to focus on both quality and affordability, and the results have been remarkable.”
This is a huge win for students and higher education in general, and higher revenues are a positive for publishers as well. But these new systems are not without their downsides.
Additionally, Cengage Unlimited only offers eBooks, which can pose a challenge for students who still prefer physical books. When studying for an exam, having a book to flip through and reference easily is a significant benefit. Many students also resell their textbooks at the end of a course to recoup some of their expenses, which is not possible with an online subscription.
Keep moving forward
While the debate surrounding student debt and tuition continues, it is worthwhile to pause and acknowledge the significant strides textbook publishers are making to increase the affordability and accessibility of academic materials.
From print to eBooks and eCommerce, Sheridan has your book publishing needs covered. Contact your Sheridan representative for a consultation.