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Textbooks are too Expensive

The business of post secondary education, and training programs has taken off in terms of profit margins in specific areas, but none more than in the area of textbooks.

When I was a student (many years ago), the profit centers for Universities were:

  • Tuition Fees
  • Government Funding
  • Private Funding
  • Gifts from alumni
  • Services on campus
Those Two Books Cost Almost as Much as 1 Term Tuition when I was at School.

There was also another income center which was shared between the professors and the school and that was the sale of textbooks. When I started at U of Waterloo there were not that many texts on computers, and the ones we used were quite expensive, but now the entire text book market has exploded, and the prices have increased a great deal.

Why, is my question, are textbooks still so darn expensive? The simple answer is, profits, and a captive audience. If a professor makes the textbook compulsory for a course, he is forcing students to either:

  • Buy the textbook new
  • Buy it from a Used Book Store (which many times, is a previous version and may not be up to date, or worse a different text is to be used (which happens a lot in technology courses)).
  • Rent the book ? Yes there are such services out there as well.
  • Find a “boot leg” PDF, or similar “unofficial” version

These textbook costs are on top of the new Large Service fees from Universities, and also the costs of living away from home (if that is the case). Hope you folks are saving, if you plan on helping your kids out with post-secondary education costs.

How expensive can these books be? In the photo in this post, those two books added up to $350.00, and there were other books that could have been purchased.

Feel Free to Comment

  1. My dad sends me these newsletters every week and this one especially resonated with me. As a current U of Waterloo student unfortunately nothing has changed. Textbook costs can be more than a month of rent and they often turn into paperweights that you cannot resell due to a new edition or change in professor and some people won’t buy them if they have a dot of highlighter! Now on top of textbook costs some professors also opt to use an iclicker system for participation marks (they ask questions in class and you answer via a clicker with different multiple choice options) these run for $20, good thing about these is that you can resell them and often you’ll have to use them in more than one class. But a new system is top hat, essentially the same idea, but it requires a subscription either for the term or full year at $25 or $40 respectively.

    It was funny opening this weeks newsletter and saw this article as I had just finished complaining to my dad about a $200 book, $25 top hat subscription and because it’s a stats course, a $120 calculator. I’m in my 4th year and this is definitely the most expensive course I’ve taken and likely the only time I’ll ever have use for that calculator!

    Advice for other students, wait until you go to your first class to make sure the text book is needed, check Amazon and your schools used bookstore and join a textbook exchange site or Facebook group.

  2. Speaking as a professor I completely agree. However it is not us who profit from this but the textbook publishers. This results in a bizarre market where the publishers are marketing the books to customers who never actually purchase the product so price is less of an issue although this is changing as some of us start to query publishers about the student prices.

    However the problem we face as professors is that there is little alternative to using a textbook. I wrote my own for one course because the publisher textbook were simplifying the physics to the point where it was wrong and well below the level needed for the course. The students get it for free electronically or really cheap (zero royalties really reduces the cost!) via a US online publisher (US$4.24+postage) then but it is a huge amount of work to do this and it has not been professionally proof-read so there are more errata than a typical textbook.

    Some provinces are waking up to this and now providing funding to for profs to develop use of open resources but this will take time to have impact and many of the open resources available are still of dubious quality although the general level is improving.

  3. Aside from using the library copies (which barely any students use, so the books tend to be available on-demand), the best strategy happens to be this dirty little secret: international editions. Many if not most technical textbooks are printed in two versions: the expensive North American version and the cheap international edition. They have the same content and are in english, but the international version is printed on cheaper paper, is paperback, and is not in colour. But it costs literally $25-40 delivered. I once picked up one that would have cost me $240 (!) at the book store for $35 online. Thousands of dollars can be saved over the course of a degree by doing this.

  4. When I was in school, I would share with friends (split the cost of the book) or really determine if it really was necessary. Some books I would get if I knew the professor would use it a lot and there were lots of exercises in the book (accounting classes) or I wanted to keep for future use. Others I would sell to make some money back.
    Also the library would have copies of the text book that could be used, and loaned out for a couple hours at a time, if I needed the book very infrequently, I would do this one.

  5. Oh, I definitely agree. I thought $100 per book was pricey when I was in university. Unfortunately, due to the courses that I was taking, I couldn’t get the used books as they were needed for upper years.

    On the plus side, I still use them to this day for work purposes! 😉

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