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The Textbook Monopoly

Updated on January 16, 2012

Biology. Chemistry. Microeconomics. Anthropology.

Anyone who has been, is, or will be a college student at any point in their lives is probably already aware of the fact that textbooks are expensive.

Most college students average fifteen credit hours per semester, which is about five classes, and the potential for five textbooks. In our capitalist economy, textbook companies have the right to charge whatever they like for textbook - and clearly, they are charging whatever they like. But is it fair?


Thanks to the power of the internet, it is now much easier to buy and sell textbooks than it ever has been.

Students have the benefit of selling their used textbooks through websites like and, and they are often able to sell them for close to what they paid for them. Some students are even able to make money off of their textbooks - buying them at extremely discounted amounts and then selling them back for more than they initially paid.

Unfortunately, this puts textbook companies at a disadvantage. A textbook company can make a large profit off of a textbook for about a year. Once it has been purchased new, it circulates it's way down the used-textbook chain, and none of that money is going to the textbook company. In order to ensure sales, the modern textbook company has resorted to several different methods to force students to pay more for textbooks.

One thing that textbook companies do to boost profits is to release a new edition of a textbook every few years. Don't be fooled - the sixth edition of your Microeconomics textbook is basically the exact same as the fifth edition. What the publishers do to re-market it is to mix up the chapter order, swap out a few pictures, and flip around a few words.

In some cases, students can get by with an older edition of the textbook, even if their professor recommends the latest upgrade - but there is a definite disadvantage once your professor moves on to the next edition.

Another sneaky move by the textbook companies is the inclusion of an online access code.

Many textbook companies have created large online components as companions to the textbook. In order to access these materials, a student needs an access code. Simple, right? Except that the access code comes prepackaged with new textbooks, and it can only be used once - for one semester's-worth of access.

Don't worry. You can buy online access separately. For somewhere north of $40.

There are also supplements like workbooks, lecture notes, and other items that textbook companies can charge college students - which become slightly more affordable ONLY if the student chooses to buy them all packaged together as a bundle.

So why are these textbook prices so high? Simply - students will pay for it.

When a professor requires a certain book for class, there is rarely any way around it. Students need the book in order to read for the class, in order to complete homework assignments, and in order to do well on tests. Requirements of certain workbooks and online access codes serve as significant portions of the students grades, and only supplements the sales of these over-priced textbooks.

Do you remember the steep prices of textbooks from your college days?


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    • laurathegentleman profile image

      laurathegentleman 5 years ago from Chapel Hill, NC

      Thank you so much, DonnaCosmato! It is unavoidable, really - we have no choice but to fork over the cash for the required books. Thanks for the comment! :)

    • DonnaCosmato profile image

      Donna Cosmato 5 years ago from USA

      You are right; textbooks are expensive and it doesn't start at the college level if you have a child in private school. However, as you so sagely point out, if you want to take the course (or have your child enrolled in it,) you have to pay the price:( Good advice; voted up.

    • laurathegentleman profile image

      laurathegentleman 5 years ago from Chapel Hill, NC

      Thanks for the comment, Alex. That's lucky! I wish ours were that reasonable!

    • Alex Brockie profile image

      Alex Brockie 5 years ago from England

      This was a great hub. In England textbooks usually cost around £20 per book, which is around $31, which I don't think is that bad.

    • laurathegentleman profile image

      laurathegentleman 5 years ago from Chapel Hill, NC

      I always buy used from websites like Amazon and Ebay... Once I had a friend who let me use hers for free, and she re-sold it after I was done using it - Best friend for life? I think so. ;)

    • Laura in Denver profile image

      Laura Deibel 5 years ago from Aurora

      Textbooks have long been a rip off. You can usually get by with an old one if you have a friend with a new one.

      Then you cn verify that questions assigned are the same one. Or ask the teacher, but teachers are quite busy.

    • laurathegentleman profile image

      laurathegentleman 6 years ago from Chapel Hill, NC

      Thank you, cleaner3, for the lovely comment! Many times the textbook is mandatory, as well as the online components. However, there are teachers who will do everything they can to teach the material without forcing you to buy the book, as well as professors who encourage you to buy older editions of the book for cheaper.

      And thank you! :) You make me smile!

    • cleaner3 profile image

      cleaner3 6 years ago from Pueblo, Colorado

      Laura, the truth is that the student in many circumstances has to buy the book. I am a student . The teacher doesn't really have any say so in the pricing.

      I have a professor who realizes this and when it was time to get our book for this semester,he told us not to buy the required book( whuch by the way cost $80.00)

      instead he had aquired a generic book for every student which he gave to us for free.

      great Hub, thanks


      did I forget to tell you that your eyes are simply beautiful!

    • laurathegentleman profile image

      laurathegentleman 6 years ago from Chapel Hill, NC

      Thanks, YogaKat. It is entirely ridiculous how these companies take advantage of students who have no choice but to purchase their books. My books this semester cost me nearly $500 as well - about two entire month's salary at my part-time job!

    • YogaKat profile image

      YogaKat 6 years ago from Oahu Hawaii

      My daughter forks over around $500.00 for books every semester. Are the professors getting some sort of kickback? The professors who write their textbooks might be. These textbook publishers are criminals. Thanks for drawing AWARENESS to this ABUSE of college students. Voted up and awesome and I'm going to Email to my girl!

    • laurathegentleman profile image

      laurathegentleman 6 years ago from Chapel Hill, NC

      It really is - you HAVE to buy the books, so you HAVE to fork over handfuls of money to these companies. Frustrating. Thanks for the comment, CrazyGata!

    • CrazyGata profile image

      CrazyGata 6 years ago from Puerto Rico

      Because they got you good. A book that you are practically forced to buy. Price is overrated. Education is a huge business.