Why Are Textbooks So Expensive at UTC?

By: Cody Dowler

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (UTC/The Loop) – At the beginning of each semester, most UTC students are all asking the same question but don’t receive an answer. Why do textbooks cost so much?

There are a massive number of reasons why textbook prices are high and keep rising. Here are just a few of those reasons.


  • Highly specialized material – Many college textbooks are highly specialized and the material is unavailable in any other book. The low volume of published books and the lack of market competition drive publishers to jack up prices.
  • Copyright payments – The publishing companies have to pay copyright fees to every author in the book. A poetry book for a literature class, for example, may involve clearing hundreds of copyrights.
  • Online companions – Many textbooks are complemented by online resources. The subscription fee is built in to the cost of the book. (i.e. Wiley Plus, My Math Lab).
  • Used Textbooks – Publishers make no money when too many used books are in circulation. As a consequence, they will often release new editions every few years in order to make the used books obsolete.

These main reasons have been key to the incredible inflation of textbook prices. USA Today reports that the price of textbooks rises about 6% each year now and has risen an astounding 82% in the last decade.

How did you pay for books this past semester?

Students are beginning to find savvy ways to get around buying textbooks at full price or at all. USA Today also reports that 34% of students downloaded course content from an unauthorized website, up from 20% in 2010. 31% of students say they’ve photocopied or scanned chapters from other students’ books, up from 21% in 2010.

These methods may be saving students quite a bit of cash, but it is only hurting these publishing companies. These companies only make money for textbooks at their outrageous prices. They make no money from that same textbook if it is sold again, scanned, or photocopied any amount of times.

A great way to find free, online content is through Project Blue Sky. Launched in November 2012, this is a search engine developed by a company called Gooru specifically for online education, allowing people to “search, select and seamlessly integrate Open Education Resources.”

Academic publishers will tell you that creating modern textbooks is an expensive, labor-intensive process that demands charging high prices. But the industry also shares some of the dysfunctions that help drive up the cost of healthcare spending. Just as doctors prescribe prescription drugs they’ll never have to pay for, college professors often assign titles with little consideration of cost.

Students, like patients worried about their health, don’t have much choice to pay up, lest they risk their grades.

The graph shown below from The Atlantic greatly shows the inflation of textbook prices this generation. Since 1978, the cost of school textbooks and other supplies has risen an astounding 812%. That’s more than triple the Consumer Price Index rise of 250%.


The simplest form of a diagnosis to this issue is for these publishing companies to face the facts and lower their prices. Students are no longer willing to put with spending an extra $1000 each semester just for books that may not even be useful in their studies.

Buying all the books a student needs at his or her school’s bookstore is by far the easiest way and quickest way to get started on the semester. If bookstores just lowered their prices, they would see a huge influx of money from students who would take this easier route.

Instead, these publishing companies will continue to be stubborn about their prices. So it’s not surprising that textbook publishers have filed a lawsuit against the spreading of free, online educational content. That’s what you do when your revenue is threatened: use it to hire good lawyers.

Have faith young and future students of America’s Universities, The amount of free, high-quality online educational content is sure to grow. At the same time, the rise of the global middle class is creating a surge in demand for low-cost education. This will eventually force publishing companies to have a choice for survival: Either fold or lower prices.

And I have a strong feeling that they’ll go with the latter.

For more information about the effects of textbook pricing at UTC, check out these stories on The Loop.

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  1. Not surprised. At almost every University I have been to, the books were outrageous. The release of new versions almost every year got my blood boiling pretty good too.