When you cry yourself to sleep with your $600 orgo textbook, you can at least take comfort knowing that there’s an economic condition for your pain.
According to NBC News, the price of college textbooks has risen 1,041% since 1977. Textbooks often cost hundreds of dollars, even though it takes just a few dollars to print them. Even if you factor in the research behind writing the books, the profit premium is still ridiculous.
Publishers are able to keep jacking up the prices because they know that students are “captive consumers,” which is economic speak for “people who have to buy our stuff no matter what we price it at.”
In an efficient market, captive consumers shouldn’t exist, because competition among different players pressures the price down. But in industries such as textbook publishing, no good alternatives exist.
If a professor assigns “ABC Biology Book,” you can’t just replace it with “XYZ Biology Book” and expect your course work to be the same.
In effect, students are held captive like prisoners to these textbooks.
Textbooks aren’t the only products with captive consumers. Industries that service phones, printers, razors, theme parks, and video game consoles all have captive consumers.
When you buy a razor handle, you’re often forced to buy the expensive razors from the same companies. Same thing with printer inks and game consoles.
To combat the rising costs, some students have turned to services such as Chegg or Textbook rush to rent instead of buying textbooks.
Even with textbook rentals, publishers change their content frequently. Sometimes the changes are as trivial as moving the problems to different chapters as to make it difficult for students to use older textbooks.
For now, there doesn’t seem to be a one-stop solution to the problem. As long as professors keep prescribing these useless textbooks, students are forced to buy them to pass the class.
For now, you gotta do what you gotta do.