After shelling out wads of cash at the college bookstore semester after semester, any well-versed, eloquently-spoken, straight A student can admit: textbooks ain’t cheap. What’s worse than that $200 textbook, however? How quickly the price rose.
University of Michigan Economics Professor Mark Perry has been tracking textbook prices and offering suggestions on how we can reverse the trend. In a recent post for the American Enterprise Institute, Perry compares the textbook bubble to the rise in both the cost of housing and medical services. He writes:
The 812% increase in the price of college textbooks since 1978 makes the run-up in house prices and housing bubble (and subsequent crash) in the 2000s seem rather inconsequential, and the nine-fold increase in textbook prices also dwarfs the increase in the cost of medical services over the last three decades. Compared to the 250% increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) over the last 34 years, college textbooks have risen more than three times the amount of the average increase for all goods and services.
Just take a look at the chart:
College students are already saddled with an average student loan debt hovering around $27,000. Do we need to burden them with these sky high textbook prices, too?
Lucky for us, Boston is full of startups hoping to help students curb costs. Take myBookCrate, an online marketplace launched by Boston University student Erik Bogaard that reached 1,000 members within the first two months. Or Bookzingo, another online marketplace co-founded by Emerson student Ryan Catalani. There, students can buy and sell textbooks specific to their campus at a price they’ve set themselves.
Textbook price comparison website Coursebooks has already attracted nearly 20 Massachusetts schools, while Tuatara, co-founded by Northeastern alum Xavier Xicay, brought four publishers on board just this year. Although textbook prices are yet to be disclosed, through Tuatara’s first platform, students will be able to drag text, images and videos from textbooks, as well as course materials from the web, and drop it right into their notes. They’ll also be able to collaborate with classmates in real time, all while annotating their textbooks, notes and other class materials.
And, of course, we can’t forget about the free online textbook and learning platform Boundless. The collector of open-source materials, all students need to do is tell Boundless which text and edition has been assigned by their professor. From there, the team assembles content from the Open Educational Resources (OER) community, and delivers a textbook that covers the same exact material and allows students to access it for free, tying in several other interactive components, such as videos, highlighting and instant search.
As textbook prices continue to rise, alternatives will continue to evolve, and now couldn’t be a better time to start testing those alternatives out. Publishers are already petrified. As Perry concluded:
In the face of increasing competition from the “open educational resources” movement, the traditional college textbook model will likely suffer the same fate as the traditional encyclopedia when it was challenged by Wikipedia.
Take that, textbook industry.