Why are textbooks so expensive?

Studying at the famous IGCSE centre in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia is usually exciting. You are kinda’ grown-up, but not really, there are a lot of possibilities in front of you and you’ve got to start making a life for yourself. Yes, college life is both scary and beautiful. You get to go to those famous dining halls you see in the movies. There is no bedtime unless you make it, you’ve got your long longed-for freedom, but also some pretty expensive textbooks to handle. Yeah, maybe I shouldn’t have said that word, “textbooks”, but hey, you’re here to find out why they’re so damn expensive.

#NAME Why are textbooks so expensive?

Why are textbooks so expensive? 

Textbooks are so expensive because they are really expensive to make, or at least that’s why publishers say. Still, when you start to think about all those glossy pages, all those pictures and charts and graphs meant to help you understand stuff much easier, yes, they might cost more than just regular black words on regular white paper like what you get in a novel.

You might rebel against the system and say you need no fancy illustrations to show you anything, you just need affordable information printed in black and white on a regular paper.  Well, that is a point, would you rather learn astrophysics just by reading a block of text, or by looking at graphs, illustrations and different images beautifully printed on glossy paper and with multiple colors explaining everything? What would you choose? I think in the end, you’d choose the latter: images, graphs, illustrations, everything glossy and eye-popping.

Almost 50% of every textbook dollar goes to the production costs and author royalties.

At least this is what the National Association of College Stores (NACS) claims. An author would take about 12 cents of every dollar for a textbook, while the production costs would rise to about 33 cents. So textbooks are so expensive because the production process is also expensive. Is that all? Apparently not. There is something much worse than the expensive textbook. It’s called the expensive textbook you’ll never use, but need to buy because the teacher requires it. Yes, that’s a reality, but I won’t insist on it because it might be a really hard pill to swallow for most college students.

Textbooks are so expensive because parents pay for them.

Broke college students are some sort of pop culture characters. I’m sorry if I might have offended anyone with this statement, far from my intentions. What I want to point out here is that parents usually buy everything school-related because they think it is good for their children. Especially if the teacher says that they should buy 5 different textbooks on the same subject just to get a different point of views on the lecture, then parents will pay because they want what is best for their children. Fair enough and very noble thought, but it’s a trap at the end of the day.

The textbook market uses this lack of cost-control judgment on the side of the parents and teachers who don’t care that a second textbook might only ad 1% more useful information than the other and about 10% more costs to a student’s budget. Nevertheless, the textbook market is furious over eBay cutting their profits by making it possible for college students to re-use textbooks at a more acceptable price or share them with others. Thus the vicious circle ends with the textbook publishers raising the price for the textbooks because the re-selling of them on eBay or Facebook is cutting down on their profits. Yep, the circle goes on and on.

However, there is one viable solution for the future and that is Kindle-format textbooks, pdfs and so on which do not require so many production costs. But we’ll see what the future holds.