By Angelina Edwards
Everyone can agree that college is expensive. Between tuition, housing, and other fees, the cost tends to pile up fast, even with scholarships and financial aid.
Fortunately, a large majority of my college costs are covered by my financial aid package. While the cost of college for me is lower than it may be for others, it surely is not completely free.
At the beginning of spring semester last year, I received a bill from MU for $450. I checked my financial aid to see where the bill came from, and to my surprise, the $450 was the cost of my books for my five classes that semester. Shocked that books cost me $450, I decided to research if there was any way I could avoid this expense in the future.
I was surprised to find that the textbook market is quite complicated. According to Debt.org, America’s Debt Help Organization, four publishing companies control 90% of the textbook market, which is not regulated by the government. These four companies effectively have an oligopoly in the textbook market, which makes it difficult for students to avoid purchasing from them. An article from the University of Puget Sound dubs students as “captive consumers” who are bound to buy books from these companies because their teachers choose what they need for class.
The cost of textbooks has also skyrocketed in the past years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that textbook prices have increased by 1,041% since 1977, which puts the average yearly cost of textbooks for students at $1,250.
Vox, along with other sources, has found that teachers often consider the quality of a textbook to be the most important factor when picking class materials, and sometimes do not even look at the price for students. When quality is the priority, teachers may pick textbooks that are out of their students’ budget.
Even though it may seem difficult, it is possible to avoid spending a fortune on textbooks. There are many ways students can save money on textbooks instead of purchasing from their school’s textbook store by default or directly from the publisher.
Forbes and Debt.org recommend using a price-comparing search engine for textbooks such as MyNextCollege, MyBeeble or BIGWORDS. These websites will show you prices from multiple retailers and sometimes from other students who are selling their used books.
Renting books can also save students some cash. Chegg.com rents popular textbooks out for as low as $20 per semester.
Forbes also recommends checking the price of renting e-books instead of physical books. Digital copies are cheaper to rent than physical copies.
Another tip Debt.org offers for students is to wait until Add/Drop week to buy books. Oftentimes, professors do not use the book that is assigned for their class, and it could save students money to wait a few weeks to see if the book is necessary for the course.
Lastly, sharing a textbook with a friend means you only pay the price for one book. If you set up a schedule for when your friend has the book and when you have it, this can be an efficient way to save money and clear up some space in that tiny dorm room.
While the textbook industry may make it difficult to afford textbooks, these are some simple ways to lower your book costs.
Edwards is a sophomore at the University of Missouri, studying journalism.