Thursday, September 01, 2011

One Solution for High-Priced Textbooks

From Timothy Taylor at the Conversable Economist blog:

"Take a look at prices for the best-selling and best-known introductory economics textbooks. A copy of the full-year, micro and macro version will typically list at more than $200, although students can often get discounted copies at sellers like for about $170-$180.

My solution is my own introductory textbook, "Principles of Economics." The second edition of this text is out this fall through Textbook Media, Inc. The pricing works this way: $17 for access to an online e-textbook which has search, notes, and chat options, but that can't be printed; $22 for the e-textbook along with the ability to print out PDF files of the chapters; and $33 for the e-textbook along with a black-and-white printed softcover version of the book.  Textbook Media is a small company. It has no sales force to knock on the doors of professors and take them to lunch. It sponsors no junkets. The book is printed in black and white. But it does have e-textbook functionality, a workbook of problems and answers, a test bank, and some other add-ons. If you want a micro or a macro split, they are available."

MP: I predict that we'll see more and more of this.  Spending $1,000 per semester on textbooks (5 courses x $200) seems like an unsustainable exercise of monopoly power and pricing. 


At 9/01/2011 2:02 PM, Blogger sethstorm said...

For once, I'll agree with you. If it takes this to make the Developing World editions available for all, go ahead.

No argument on quality can be justified when the content really doesnt change.

At 9/01/2011 2:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course, if a professor changes his (or her...) book, older versions are less desirable.

At 9/01/2011 2:58 PM, Blogger Larry G said...

this is one of the last stubborn vestiges holding out against the online content revolution.

Any student from K-12 and higher should be able to have all of their textbooks on a Kindle or Ipad and anytime they are near a WiFi to be able to get the updated versions.

It would appear that Textbook Media and brethren may have a bright future but the industry will shed many other industries that have been "internetized".

At 9/01/2011 5:38 PM, Blogger Marko said...

The reason most charge so much for textbooks is because they can - when you subsidize student education with low cost federal loans, of course you get price inflation on everything connected to the enterprise!

At 9/01/2011 8:49 PM, Blogger Expected Optimism said...

The problem is that professors choose the textbook while students & scholarship funds pay the price. As long as those two facts are true, I don't think it matters how cheap Taylor sells his textbook for, or what online bells and whistles he supplies.

At 9/01/2011 9:03 PM, Blogger Mark J. Perry said...

Marko and Expected Optimism:

Almost no scholarships ever cover 100% of tuition, room/board AND ALL textbooks, so almost ALL students will be price-sensitive about textbooks. At the new corrected link to the original post at Converable Economics, there's a link to an article saying that 70% of college students have skipped buying a textbook because of high costs. I have seen that many times myself as a college professor over the years, and it has increased recently as new textbooks are over $200, and publishers have gone to a 2-year cycle of new editions, in at attempt to kill the used textbook market.

Textbook prices will probably continue to rise, creating huge incentives and opportunities for $17 textbooks like the blog describes.

At 9/02/2011 2:04 AM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

Buy the textbook, spend an hour copying it at $0.03 a page, and return it.

At 9/02/2011 9:42 AM, Blogger Dahveed said...

I don't see this being a solution to the text-book rip off of college students. For it to be a method of breaking the monopoly power of the professor, students would need to select their professors by knowing that their books would cost $20 instead of $200. Do student's know this? I don't think so. Do they care? The ones on the full parent ride don't. Their parents may.

Eventually we will see a massive change in the college environment as parents and students really start questioning the value of a college education. Then perhaps, we'll see tuition, books, housing, etc prices fall at some institutions that fail to offer their graduates anything more than a 4 year party with lots of drinking, sex and sleeping till noon.

I would like to see colleges require their professors to make available any required text as an ebook at a substantial savings, but this is unlikely to happen in the next 4 years.

At 9/02/2011 11:34 AM, Blogger Mark J. Perry said...

Dahveed: Sure, students just go to the bookstore to see how much the books costs for different sections of the same course. And by word-of-mouth students know which books are required by different professors. Faced with the choice between a section of ECON 101 with a $25 textbook and a $250 textbook, MANY students would choose the course with the $25 book, ceterius paribus of course, e.g. quality of instructor. And if it was two different sections of the same online class, the quality of the instructor might even matter less.

Keep in mind that at many universities, the non-traditional students (older, working, etc. students paying their own tuition) outnumber the traditional (right out of school with funding from parents).

At 9/02/2011 12:31 PM, Blogger Bruce Hall said...

What's in it for the professor who has a lock on the [class] market?

"It has no sales force to knock on the doors of professors and take them to lunch. It sponsors no junkets."

At 9/02/2011 1:11 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...

"Buy the textbook, spend an hour copying it at $0.03 a page, and return it."

but, but...but that's illegal!

It would be easier to just mug another student for their book & let THEM worry making copies.

At 9/02/2011 1:38 PM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

Ron, it's better to mug the guy who's trying to mug you.

At 9/02/2011 3:34 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...

"Ron, it's better to mug the guy who's trying to mug you."

If I'm going to scan an entire book, I might as well save a digital copy, so I can sell additional copies to others.

I'm surprised that angry flash-mobs of students haven't descended on college bookstores for the books they need.

At 9/02/2011 11:48 PM, Blogger J Scheppers said...

How soon before the wiki textbook surpasses the Professorial text book in terms of knowledge value. Sample:

At 9/03/2011 11:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


A lot of Professors consider their reading lists to be their personal IP and brand, however heads of faculty are working to get them to open up to let students know about the titles ahead of time.

I would suggest that knowledge of the reading list ahead of time will enable students to prepare their budgets around the content of the course.

Whilst most introductory courses rely on one or two textbooks purchasing one might be acceptable. The approach that Reference Tree ( )(disclosure: my firm)takes is to make textbooks available for rental by chapter, therefore students can obtain their course materials on a pay as you go basis, building their own course collection from what is used in lectures and recommended by peers.

Where the professor can assist the student is through using titles such as those produced by flat world knowledge ( flatworld knowledge's open source textbooks enable professors to remix content to suit their course (the course leading the textbook rather than the textbook leading the course) and make it available to students in multiple formats to suit their study preferences.

I welcome you to look at Reference Tree ( and send me any feedback you have.


At 9/08/2011 4:20 PM, Blogger thisjustin said...

Or students could just look online....

I found the same book you linked to for $13.98 on the textbook price comparison engine See below:

At 9/08/2011 5:05 PM, Blogger Mark J. Perry said...

Note; I think $13.98 is the price to RENT the textbook, not buy it.

At 9/08/2011 5:20 PM, Blogger Larry G said...

the interesting thing to me is that colleges could do what the armed forces do and offer a comprehensive challenge test that classifies your competence.

If that happened - kids could pick and choose where to get their education on a much more granular - and competitive basis....

the whole credit-transfer thing ought to offer challenge exams that don't care how you got the knowledge as long as you demonstrate your competence.


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