Why Textbook Publishers Are Running Scared: Survey Shows College Textbook Spending Dropped 17% Since 2007

When textbook publishers filed copyright infringement suits against third-party sellers (and Follett, even), the motivation was obvious. Just ask anyone: non-fiction sales are down (like O'Reilly said) so the publishers are trying to remove low-priced and sub-par competition from the market.

Why Textbook Publishers Are Running Scared: Survey Shows College Textbook Spending Dropped 17% Since 2007 Textbooks & Digital Textbooks

New survey data shows that college students are spending less on textbooks than ever before. The Student Watch report from the National Association of College Stores showed that students spent an average of $579 on their required course materials, down $122 from $701 in 2007.

That's a drop of 17% in a decade where textbook prices increased faster than the cost of healthcare.

The complete report is behind a paywall. You can read a regurgitation of the highlights at PW, or the highlights themselves at the NACS website.

Two details that caught my eye were the increase in the use of free and paid digital course materials:

  • nearly a quarter (23%) of students who purchased at least one course material bought a digital version, an increase of 8% from fall 2015.
  • In spring 2016, 25% of students surveyed reported using a free method to obtain what they needed for class, up from 19% the previous year.

Surprisingly, student are still more likely to use the college bookstore than even Amazon when buying textbooks.

I strongly suspect that is misleading, though; while I used the college bookstore when I was a student a decade ago I spent most of my money elsewhere. The current trend of B&N Edu replacing its college bookstores with gift shops, and colleges outsourcing bookstore operations would also suggest that actual spending at college bookstores has declined.

NACS

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: He's here to chew bubble gum and fix broken websites, and he is all out of bubble gum. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills at the drop of a hat. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.

9 Comments

  1. Norman Wendth28 August, 2017

    Many schools permit using financial aid for textbooks IF students buy their texts at the college store and not otherwise. For non-FA students, I suspect the percentage using the college bookstore is much lower.

    Reply
  2. Mackay Bell28 August, 2017

    Wait a second…

    Could it be that publishers continually raising prices on already overpriced text books in a era of widespread free information sparked a backlash and hurt sales?

    Nah, must be a coincidence.

    Reply
  3. Mike W.29 August, 2017

    Decades ago I developed my hatred of the corrupt textbook publishing industry. Now I am helping my son find ways to save money on college textbooks. Payback time!

    Reply
  4. Reader29 August, 2017

    Stores showed that students spent an average of $579 on their required course materials, down $23[sic] from $701 in 2007.
    That’s a drop of 17% in a decade where textbook prices increased faster than the cost of healthcare.

    1) The economist Herb Stein put it well: “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.” Or: “If something cannot go on forever, it won’t.”

    2)Not many people have sympathy for textbook publishers. Such as: publishing new editions every 4-5 years when the old edition is fine. As I see it, the new edition deal is primarily a means to cut down used book sales- if only for a year.

    3)Given the way that the Sony PDF reader makes it easy to “pencil in” notes, I wonder if increased use of digital textbooks will provide Sony a market for its PDF reader.

    4) I base this not on reduced store spending, but on increased use of digital textbooks and free materials.

    5) Typo to be corrected: “down $23” to “down $122.”

    Reply
    1. Nate Hoffelder29 August, 2017

      thanks for pointing out the typo; I fixed it.

      Reply
  5. Dilsia Martinez29 August, 2017

    There are online bookstores that have the international edition of many expensive textbooks sold in the U.S.

    Reply
    1. Nate Hoffelder29 August, 2017

      Considering you can’t easily resell the int’l editions, I’m not sure they’re a good deal.

      Reply
  6. […] Why Textbook Publishers Are Running Scared: Survey Shows College Textbook Spending Dropped 17% Since 2007 (The Digital Reader) […]

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  7. […] College Textbook Spending Dropped 17% Since 2007 28 August (The Digital Reader) Survey shows why textbook publishers are running scared. Nearly a quarter (23%) of students who purchased at least one course material bought a digital version, an increase of 8% from fall 2015. In spring 2016, 25% of students surveyed reported using a free method to obtain what they needed for class, up from 19% the previous year. […]

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