College textbook prices have risen a staggering 1,041 percent in the past 38 years, according to research conducted by NBC News.
The figure, tabulated using data collected by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), reflects a growth rate three times higher than the rate of inflation.
Nicole Allen of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition said the surging prices exist because students are more or less a “captive market” that can be expected to buy whatever books are assigned for their courses. Meanwhile, professors are also to blame for assigning books without paying much attention to the price they impose on students.
NBC compared the system for textbooks to that of prescription drugs. Just as pharmaceutical companies spend millions marketing drugs to doctors in the hopes they’ll choose to prescribe them to patients, textbook companies also spend big sums wooing professors to assign particular textbooks.
The end result? A publishing market where basic textbooks are routinely $200 or more new and some more specialized texts surpass $400. (RELATED: The Trouble With Textbooks: A Great American Rip-Off)
Unsurprisingly, textbook manufacturers and booksellers disagree with NBC’s assessment of the issue, arguing that textbook prices have not risen as much as they appear. Laura Massie of the National Association of College Stores noted that the booming market for used and rented textbooks, helped along by the Internet, makes the actual cost for students lower than it appears. Massie said that students are becoming “savvier shoppers” and consequently overall spending on class supplies has dropped slightly in recent years.
But that “savvy” approach may be costing some students in places other than their pocketbooks. A 2014 survey of over 2,000 students at more than 150 different campuses found that a majority had attempted to cope with textbook costs by simply refusing to buy an assigned book, even though almost all of them feared their grade could be hurt in the process.
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