Chapter 17: Reduce the Cost of Textbooks

The price of college textbooks has soared over the years. Once an instructor selects a textbook, the publisher has a monopoly position as the only provider of the text, and in recent years they have taken advantage of this to raise prices to the triple digits for many texts.  Fortunately, modern technology has helped break down this monopoly.

On-line booksellers increasingly sell used copies of books to students at lower prices than local bookstores. More professors are opting for electronic books, and the development of devices such as the Kindle and the iPad are likely to further the revolution in electronic publishing that also has hit the traditional textbook market. Finally, bookstores and publishers are reviving an old idea—textbook rentals—as a means to lower enormous textbook costs.

As technology changes, universities may wish to reconsider the operation of campus bookstores, something that usually is best left to private entrepreneurs. State laws to control textbook prices and other regulatory approaches to the problem may do more harm than good, although colleges should encourage faculty to select texts in a way that allows students alternative means of purchase, which inevitably leads to lower costs.

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