The Cost of Textbooks Is Too Damn High – So Boundless Made Free Ones

Today’s textbook market is broken. Textbooks remain the core content for most courses in higher education, but this market operates “cartel” style – meaning students have less choice in price and products for their own education. The textbook publishing market is an oligopoly, with over 80% of the textbook market controlled is by the top 4 publishers: Pearson, Cengage, Wiley and McGraw-Hill.

This market was never designed to give students a choice. In the textbook cycle, publishers use aggressive sales tactics to acquire professors’ business. These professors then assign their students a textbook for class—and it’s the students who have to pay for the books. Students have little choice as to what book they use for class; many feel compelled to use the assigned text to get a good grade.

The cost of textbooks has risen 812% in the past 30 years—that’s more than healthcare costs, housing prices, and college tuitions, all of which have risen faster than the rate of inflation. Now, students are spending an average of $1,200 a year on textbooks and course materials at public four-year colleges.rising textbook prices

Mark Perry, an economics professor at the University of Michigan, has tracked textbook prices for years. He says,

Just like the ongoing home price increases and housing bubble of the last decade were unsustainable, there is now growing evidence that rising college textbook prices and the “college textbook bubble” are also unsustainable, especially because of the growing number of low-priced and even free alternatives to over-priced $200-300 college textbooks.

These rising prices have frustrated students everywhere. The Chronicle of Higher Education talked with students about their textbook buying experiences. A radiology student at Foothill College told the Chronicle,

I receive benefits from the GI Bill, and that is our sole income right now. I have to go and spend $400 for a couple of books—it’s absolutely outrageous. It’s unacceptable that I can’t buy groceries for two weeks because I had to pay for books.

Though students have long found ways to circumvent the skyrocketing costs of textbooks—not buying them, renting them, or even illegally downloading them—they shouldn’t have to sacrifice quality for cost.

At Boundless, we realized that the sad state of the textbook industry is especially startling when you consider the wealth of Open Educational Resources (OER) that has been created over the last 20 years by leading educators and institutions. Top tier universities, professors, and faculty have created amazing educational content, which has remained relatively disconnected from students—until now.

Boundless works with a team of subject experts, PhDs, and Masters students to curate the best open content into free, interactive textbooks. Our free textbooks cover nearly 20 subjects and include study tools like quizzes and flashcards to take the study experience far beyond a traditional textbook. Now, students at more than 2,000 colleges in the US are turning to Boundless free textbooks as an alternative to pricey books!

Author’s note: Since this post was published, we’ve updated Boundless textbooks to include awesome integrated study tools, like flashcards and quizzes, that actually learn with you. These premium textbooks are only $19.99, a far cry from bookstore price tags, plus we still have 21 free Boundless textbooks available. Check out the options here

  • Nikita Tibenko

    t-thanks baby boomers.

    • Eric Cramer

      Baby boomers, they real takers. Then crying about how young people don’t vote, then realizing they need them to sign up to subsidize their healthcare. Oh, and they need them to have jobs to pay for their failing social security. Greatest generation my rear end. How about ignoring climate change and passing it down? The only thing I give them credit for is the civil rights movement.

      • carbonated_turtle

        “The only thing I give them credit for is the civil rights movement.”

        Which many of them still fought again.

      • Neal

        The greatest generation was their parents, they underwent the Great Depression and WWII. However, the baby boomers. No one in the future of the US will have it as good as them.

        • kalzal

          Firstly, by a lot of metrics the great ‘recession’ is a much greater slump than the great depression, especially as cheap energy is something that isn’t going to exist going into the future. The ‘greatest generation’ did go through the depression, but as children, it was their parents that had to deal with the day to day hardships of securing an income.

          Secondly, only 7.5% of the U.S. population, and about 24% of the men in that generation fought in the war.
          Lastly they didn’t have to deal with living in an ecosystem (and consequently economy) on the edge of complete irreversible meltdown.

          • Neal

            Seriously? The unemployment rate reached 25% in The Great Depression. Sure, the kids didn’t have to work, but could you imagine growing up in the Hoovervilles in which some lived?

            True only 7.5% of the population fought in the war. However, the war effort was a national event. Factories were changed to produced war materials, women created war gardens, civilian rations were created to ensure the troops were supplied. When the Allies won, the whole country felt that they contributed to the war effort.

          • Berkeley Guy

            I like how a lot of people during the recession could sip expensive espressos at a nearby cafe while surfing the net on their iPhone, but during the great depression people waited in long lines for soup and had to use salt (if they had any) to brush their teeth with.

      • Barncheetah

        Don’t forget debt, which means there will be no money to slow down the climate change. But that’s ok, we can just pass it onto the next generation and blame the president of the time. This pretty much sums it up: “There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.”

      • rgray222

        In case you haven’t studied history someone handed our generation, the Korean War, WWII, Segregation, a much worse economy and we did not sit around and complain about it or point fingers. We got on with what had to be done and did it!

        To read your comment is a sad statement on today’s young people, instead of doing things for yourselves you seem to think it should be done for you or that you should be handed a nice shiny new ecomomy full of jobs. No generation have ever had that luxury and simply does not work that way.

        • Eric Cramer

          Young people are handing you welfare checks every month. Go check your fogey privilege.

          • rgray222

            Get off your snarky a$$ and go get a job. Stop your infantile whining. What makes you think that anyone owes you anything. If everyone in your generation has such a entitlement attitude than you will sit around watching the boat sink without lifting a bucket to get rid of the water!

          • Eric Cramer

            I have a job. Your generation is the one who thinks everyone owes you something. Everyone born after you should just drop down and pay homeage. It’s your entitlement attitude and your projection issues. Your ship is sunk without the younger generation bailing you out.

          • rgray222

            Get your story straight, you first complain that your ship is sunk now. Now your saying our ship is sunk without you. Your generation has been spending money you don’t have for a long time. You elect a president with a $10T debt and he takes it to $17T almost overnight. Then he blames everyone for his own inept behavior. Blame, spending and taxing is all you folks seem capable of!
            Stop your moaning and groaning, get on with life. Small minds speak of people and blame………great minds speak of ideas!

          • Eric Cramer

            The only one who is whining is you. Need your diaper changed? All I hear is wah wah wah, project my insecurities onto younger folks while mooching off of them because I can’t do anything else. Maybe if you actually lifted a finger when you were young, you’d still be in shape to win a street fight. Do you even lift bro? Or were you too busy dodging the draft in Canada?

  • Howard Treesong

    How’s that free market working out for you? Oh, right. No free market. Oligopoly. You know what really makes me cry with laughter? The textbook on economics dealing with various systems, discussing the oligopoly, made by an oligopoly.

    Every time you see an industry increasing its prices, for no reason, at multiples the rate of inflation, bingo! That’s one of them.

    • Neal

      What’s even more depressing is that there are many industries that reflect the textbook market (cable television). And due to the massive amount of lobbying and rule bending, the state of these industries aren’t going to change.