Textbook prices: Are there any cheap textbooks or other alternatives?

Students are taking to the streets overseas and here in the United States, where funding cuts have forced schools to raise tuition by as much as thirty percent. Some experts estimate that the rising costs will place a college education out of reach for many individuals. However, even if you’re able to gather the necessary funds to enroll in your classes, you’re not out of the woods yet. Just as painful as the tuition hikes are textbook prices. Is there such a thing as cheap textbooks? What are the alternatives?

Rising costs rival inflation
A 2005 Government Accountability Office (GAO) study revealed that textbook prices rose an average of 6 percent per year during the past two decades—twice the rate of inflation. Overall, textbook prices nearly tripled between 1986 and 2004. During the 2009-2010 academic year alone, most students paid between $600 and $900 for textbooks.

Why are textbook prices so high? The GAO attributed rising costs to the bundling of books with CDs and other supplements, such as online access codes. Another cause for constant price increases mentioned by the GAO is the frequent revisions that render older versions of textbooks obsolete. When this happens, not only do students have to pay high prices for brand new books, but these students cannot sell their books back to the bookstore or to the next wave of enrollees in the course because a new edition is already in print.

Will new legislation help?
In July 2010, new legislation went into effect that required textbook publishers to provide instructors with information on pricing and textbook revisions. Colleges and universities are also asked to dispense information on required textbooks early enough to allow students to comparison shop. However, given that most instructors choose a text for its content rather than its price, it’s doubtful that these changes will save students any money.

Rental programs
In an effort to make textbooks more affordable, many school bookstores are starting textbook rental programs. A survey by the National Association of College Stores (NACS) reported that more than 2,400 of the 3,000 member stores were offering textbook rental programs in January 2010. That number is expected to grow to include all member stores by fall 2011. Our site CengageBrain.com makes it easy to rent discount textbooks for college.

On average, rental costs tend to be anywhere from one-third to one-half the cost of a new book. The advantage of renting is that students don’t have to pay large textbook fees at the beginning of the semester. On the other hand, a major disadvantage is that students can’t keep the books and won’t gain the possible advantage of selling them back.

College bookstores aren’t the only ones getting into rentals. Several websites such as BookRenter.com and Chegg.com will rent textbooks for a fraction of the list prices; however, renters are responsible for all shipping costs. The rental period is typically about four months long and, in most cases, students can extend their rental periods if necessary.

Digital textbooks make learning mobile
Students can also save by renting an eBook instead of a paper text. An eBook is a digital version of a book that students can read on a computer or other mobile device with Internet access. Unlike hard copy rentals, many digital books offer the ability to search, bookmark, highlight, take notes, print, and email passages. One provider, CourseSmart.com, offers a free App through iTunes that allows students to access their texts on an iPad, iPod Touch, or iPhone. Students may also choose to download the eBooks to their computers but this requires the necessary software, which is free. Whether downloaded or read online, access to the text expires at the end of the rental period.

Rising textbook prices need not be a barrier to student success. Book rentals and eBook access are making textbooks more affordable and more flexible for you and your instructors.

If it could hold all your books and materials, would you trade in your heavy book bag for an eReader?

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