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.
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.