What Students Need to Know About College Textbooks

College Textbooks

Who Writes College Textbooks?

If it's your first trip to your school's bookstore, you may be wondering who writes those massive college textbooks. In many cases, your professor might have been the one to produce the book that's required for your course. While many professors assign their own books out of a genuine belief that the material is vital to the learning experience, profit may also play a role in this decision. Professors, just like other types of authors, earn royalties for each book they sell. Requiring a class of 300 students to purchase a book guarantees a sizable profit, even if the author is only receiving 10-12% of the price of each book.

Do I Need to Read All These Books?

If you're dreading the idea of reading a huge stack of college textbooks, don't worry. In many cases, you're not even going to read the entire book. It's not uncommon for professors to assign just three or four chapters from each book. Unfortunately, you're probably not going to find out this information until you've already made your purchase.

Should I Buy All of the Books Listed?

If a book is listed as required, you're probably going to use it on a regular basis. If you want to get a good grade in the course, you'll need to purchase the required books.

If a textbook is listed on the syllabus as a recommended book, it's probably not as important. In fact, it may only be used during two or three lessons. You can purchase the book, check out a copy from the library, or share with a friend.

Why Are My Books so Expensive?

Did you know that in the past two decades, college textbook prices have increased twice as fast as inflation? While the newest Stephen King novel might cost $25, it's not unusual for a single college textbook to cost over $100. And some professors will require more than one book per course.

The price of college textbooks often varies according to the field of study. For example, chemistry textbooks are typically much more expensive than the books used in an elective religion course. At many schools, students report biology textbooks are the most expensive.

According to publishers, there are several factors contributing to the high price of college textbooks.

  • At one time, textbook publishers weren't expected to turn a significant profit. However, publishing is now treated like any other business. The company is expected to make as much money as possible from your purchase.
  • The rapidly changing nature of some academic fields requires publishers to update the facts in a textbook on an annual basis. Each new edition of a book typically costs 45% more than the previous copy.
  • Books containing CDs, software, or other supplemental materials will cost much more than books without these extras.
  • Hardcover textbooks are slightly more expensive than their paperback counterparts.
  • Books with lots of full-color illustrations cost more to produce than textbooks without these graphics.
  • Some publishers markup the cost of new books to compensate for the fact that used textbook sales don't produce royalties for the author.

College students at four-year, public universities spend nearly $900 per year on textbooks. Even students attending community colleges can expect to spend about $800 on their books. And one recent survey found nearly 60% of all college students choose not to purchase all of the recommended textbooks in an attempt to save money.

If you're a college student on a tight budget, shop early for your textbooks. Get a syllabus and check out various online retailers to compare the prices of your books and/or look for used copies. Here a few websites to help you in your search:

You may also want to look at price comparison sites such as DirectTextbook.com when looking for your course materials.

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What Students Need to Know About College Textbooks