How Expensive Are Textbooks? Paul Graham Gets It Right.

August 26th 2014

Lindsay Haskell

One of the biggest expenses in college is textbooks- but why?

It’s simple. They don’t operate in a free market. Professors pick specific editions by certain publishers as mandatory, and student have limited ability to ‘shop around’ for deals. This - combined with the fact that more publishers constantly release new editions and are bundling products (ie: adding supplemental tools such as DVDs and study guides to their textbooks) - means that textbook prices continue to rise, more than 800 percent over the last 3 decades.

With high college tuition already making people question if the institution itself is worth it, these exorbitant textbook prices only add to the large debts that students accrue. As the Institute for College Access & Success's Project on Student Debt notes, the average U.S. College graduate owes $29,000 in student loans.

As prominent tech investor Paul Graham notes on Twitter, “Textbooks are expensive for the same reason enterprise software is bad: purchasing decisions are not made by the users.” 

textbooks expensive

Instead of adding to the student's economic plight, colleges should empower students by helping them become informed consumers. Students themselves can be a part of this process by looking into and supporting the Affordable College Textbook Act.