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Jude's avatar

Is there a reason why textbooks have to be so bloody expensive for university?

Asked by Jude (31993 points ) February 17th, 2010

My cousin just got accepted to teacher’s college. She showed me her textbook list and the total came to around a grand. That’s ridiculous. One was around $180. The thing is, they change the editions so often, you’re not able to get used texts. It’s bad enough that tuition prices are high.

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35 Answers

limeaide's avatar

I bought mine from Amazon, 1 example the text book was $120 at the bookstore I paid $15 from a reseller who said the condition was good, it turned out to be a new text book. Try different online sites and you should be able to find them used somewhere.

Jude's avatar

@limeaide I’ll pass that info onto her. Thanks!

theichibun's avatar

The books are that expensive because people pay that price. Most college professors won’t have a problem at all if you use an older edition.

jeffgoldblumsprivatefacilities's avatar

It’s a total racket. I once bought a textbook that I needed for a whopping total of $220 bucks. At the end of the semester, I went to sell it back and was told they would no longer accept it, because they would be using the 4th edition the following semester. The 3rd edition was just released when I bought it. <Shakes fist in rage>

Later, I discovered the website Chegg where you can rent textbooks for a fraction of the buying price. It’s great, because you aren’t stuck with a textbook you’ll never use again at the end of the semester. Pass it along to your cousin, it has saved me hundreds of dollars over the course of my college education.

Also, they (Chegg) plant a tree everytime you rent a book, and that is neat.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

They’ve been doing that racket for the last 50+ years. Thirty years ago the textbooks were recycled via used book stores. Now the publishers are pushing a new edition every year to counter this. They’ve always used the excuse of small print runs to justify the high cost, but new editions with trivial changes is just a racket to prevent reselling. At the undergrad level, using an edition that is one or two revisions out of date probably won’t matter. Basic stuff like calculus or organic chemistry doesn’t change year to year.

Captain_Fantasy's avatar

Captive audience.
Where else are you going to get the books?

tragiclikebowie's avatar

Amazon resellers usually have good prices; but sometimes the book can be a little sketch. I just got some of mine in and one is an old library book. The shipping usually takes longer too.

What I do is check a few different sites. Campusbooks.com compares quite a few websites for you, but they don’t normally check resellers on Ebay.com or Amazon.com. I’ve never had any serious problems using these sites and I’ve saved a shitload of money. You can also check ratemyprofessor.com to see if they even use the book in class.

Sarcasm's avatar

“Because they can”, basically.
This semester, I bought both of my books for a combined total of $40. The school book store wanted $120 for each.

sevenfourteen's avatar

I totally feel her pain, my anatomy book last year was $275 and they were yelling at anyone who bought the older or international edition because it was 10 words different.

The worst part about buying books is when your teacher writes the book and then makes you buy it for $100+. I’m sitting through your class already paying you to teach me, now I’ve got to read everything you just said in the book you just happened to write.

buckyboy28's avatar

I’m with @tragiclikebowie, take a peek on rate my professor or even ask around to people you know who have had that professor previously. There is no worse feeling than dishing out $100+ for a book and not using it once. Also, see if there is an off-campus book store nearby that you can get older editions from for cheap.

nikipedia's avatar

I stopped buying my books in college and used the reserve desk at the library.

Nullo's avatar

The reason is always the same: so that they can earn more.
Books have that investor-persecuting ability to exist longer than their owners; that means that normally you sell one book to one customer one time. It’s not feasible to get a larger annual crop of Advanced Basic Chemistry students, so the companies must ensure that the book’s longevity doesn’t come into play by switching up the section order every six months.
Sickening, is what it is.

Val123's avatar

ebay is awesome. I needed to get a new day planner for my husband. Walmart didn’t have jack (of course) and all the other places were asking $30 to $70 for crappy ones!!! Hit ebay, got what I wanted for $4 and $4 shipping…and it’s real leather and VERY nice looking.

erichw1504's avatar

I second Chegg and I also check Half.com for people selling books on the cheap.

tragiclikebowie's avatar

The only problem with Chegg.com is you pay around the same amount as buying a book (through other sites), and you can’t resell it.

erichw1504's avatar

@tragiclikebowie What sites sell books for a fraction of the retail price?

erichw1504's avatar

@tragiclikebowie Go here and tell me you can find a site that is selling these same books for 50 to 80 percent off.

Nullo's avatar

Sometimes you can buy books from students.

jeffgoldblumsprivatefacilities's avatar

@tragiclikebowie Hmm, In my experience, renting the book was usually about 25% of the buying price of the book. All of mine were cheaper to rent than to buy on ebay or amazon. All told, buying and selling the books I rented would have cost me much more than what it cost to rent them. Perhaps it depends on the specific topic of the books/major you are studying.

tragiclikebowie's avatar

@erichw1504 A few spring to mind: half.com, bookbyte.com, textbooksrus.com, abebooks.com, ecampus.com, textbooks.com, valorebooks.com, alibris.com, betterworldbooks.com, and there are many more. Not to mention the marketplaces where individuals resell their books. They all sell books at a fraction of the price, and some even guarantee a buyback price for you (textbooks.com does that on certain titles).

@jeffgoldblumsprivatefacilities I take a wide variety of classes. Sometimes I’ve seen it 5–10 dollars cheaper but that’s about it. Like I said above, I use campusbooks.com to compare prices and make my decisions based on that. I just prefer to buy the book so I can resell it.

Edit: I do generally buy older editions just because it’s so much cheaper. Newer editions are going to be, in general, much more expensive even when they’re discounted.

jeffgoldblumsprivatefacilities's avatar

@tragiclikebowie That may be the difference. My classes were all fairly specialized, and not in a common major. Also, I only used Ebay, Amazon, and the school bookstore as a comparison against Chegg. Maybe I would have found better deals if I would have used some other sites.

tragiclikebowie's avatar

@jeffgoldblumsprivatefacilities A large part of it is luck, I think. Book prices can change drastically just from day to day. Sometimes those other sites I mentioned are much worse, but sometimes they’ll have something for dirt cheap. My classes are generally the history/literature/environmental science/French(language) variety so there may be a wider availability on the books. Half the time I don’t even buy books because the teachers rarely use them.

DominicX's avatar

I didn’t even buy my $130 music textbook. We almost never use it; it’s purely supplemental and I find the material easy, so I didn’t get it. It’s been working for me so far. :)

My friend spend $538 on her textbooks this quarter. Ridiculous. Of course, one of them was a really expensive art textbook that had huge pictures of every painting and she likes it so much that she’s keeping it.

tragiclikebowie's avatar

@DominicX That is just plain riiiidiculous. When I went to Berklee College of Music I had to buy all my books because Berklee has it’s own press. And no one else in the world has teaches the same system as they do.

noyesa's avatar

I’m a computer science student, and many of the textbooks are the pre-eminent books on the subject, and have been around for 20+ years, and they’re not textbooks and maybe have gone through 3 editions. Much has been written about them, so you can get by without them, and if you do buy them they’re usually dirt cheap. However, most of the lower-division textbooks are virtually identical to the 23048123048134 other C++/Java/Python textbooks that are out there, and whenever a professor assigns an exercise from the book, he/she usually paraphrases the question with a legal disclaimer and puts it on the course website. I haven’t bought a book since my final prerequisite. I gather that this applies to many other majors.

davidbetterman's avatar

It is part of your lessons in re the rip-off world you are buying into…

Ron_C's avatar

I notice that university level text books were likely written by the professor teaching the course. Limited editions and unlimited vanity.

Trance24's avatar

Abe Books is another really good site. Found some soft backs on there for as low as a dollar and in great condition still.

sevenfourteen's avatar

bigwords.com is a website that you can put in all the books you need and it will use all of the other book websites to find the cheapest prices. It’s amazing and compares all the websites that @tragiclikebowie mentioned. The only downside is that it can get kind of tedious remembering which book you bought from who. Oh and it also includes renting books from places like chegg.

noyesa's avatar

@Ron_C great point. Even if they aren’t written by your professor, they are written by a professor, which one might think is a good thing but often times professors are the least apt people to be teaching the ABCs of something they’ve had a PhD in for thirty years. Most of the textbooks in my field are in the $120 range, and they’re written by professors who haven’t worked in the industry in a decade or three. As someone who works in the software industry part time as an intern while going to school, I can tell you some of these books are practically worthless these days. Many of the books you’ll find at Borders Books or Barnes & Noble are more updated and exemplify best practice better than any textbook I’ve ever used, and the ceiling for a computer programming book is about $60 for an expensive one, $25—$40 on average.

Ron_C's avatar

@noyesa I agree. It is strange, when I went to school, 40 years ago, some of the books were in the $120 range. At least the gouging hasn’t increased to meet inflation. There were also very few used books available.

thriftymaid's avatar

Nothing other than greed and a captive market. It’s infuriating.

cmomoCPA's avatar

It’s part of the college experience, growing up, getting used to being screwed. Publishers push newer additions, they raise the prices cause only the people taking that course (usually your prof had a hand in writing the book so they get royalties) will buy them. Get in and get out early to get the best selection of used books.

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