January 30, 2013 | by John Squires | in Textbook Affordability, Commentary

Welcome to Textbook Affordability Month


The Chronicle of Higher Education released a four part series on textbooks this week:

  • Students Get Savvier About Textbook Buying, When They Buy at All
  • Don't Call Them Textbooks
  • For Many Students, Print Is Still King
  • Can Textbooks Ever Really Be Free?

It is February, after all--the season of textbook adoption! Faculty across the US are rushing to their computers as we speak to search, discover, compare and adopt their course materials for the Fall 2013 term. So it truly is a good time to spotlight textbook affordability.

Back to The Chronicle. While all of the articles they published relate to our business here at Akademos and TextbookX.com, student-buying habits are especially of interest. In Students Get Savvier About Textbook Buying, When They Buy at All, The Chronicle "talked with students and found that having more choices in how to get books hasn't solved the main problem: cost." Among the workarounds--not buying texts at all (as 1/3 of seniors and 1/4 of freshmen reported not having done), and stealing in the form of pirating texts.

I'm not the first to say we are in a sad state of affairs when students are not buying textbooks at all, or stealing them; or when the cost of textbooks is more than the cost of a course. While I think students need to better educate themselves about the total cost of an education, there must be more we can do, especially to help our under-represented students, our financially-challenged students, and our community college students.

I think what is most frustrating, and comments posted on The Chronicle webpage underneath the article allude to this, is that the conversation keeps going round and round, with little appearance of reaching a solution. Now, I know this is not so--I have personally seen actions on the part of many schools, CFO's, Provosts, faculty, and both not-for-profit and for-profit companies--to help bring visibility and action to this problem. But, we all need to do more.

What if every key stakeholder did one thing, right now, to help make textbooks more affordable for our students? Can't we gather for a call to action? A call to service? Do we need to name a month, a day, in order to remind us? Then let's do it. I hereby declare February "National Textbook Affordability Month". Should we pick a day too--like the don't buy gas days? National Textbook Affordability Day is...OK, I might need some support on this one people.

So to throw my 10 cents into the ring, here are my top recommendations to help fix the 'cost' problem of textbooks:

  1. Schools need more used book inventory - Contrary to a point made in the article, an increase in the supply of used books helps decrease costs for students. Especially if the used books are available from national sources, not just local ones.
  2. Students and their families should comparison shop - Students should always check prices as they would for other items they buy. A good comparison widget is www.campusbooks.com and, of course, a quick plug for our own TextbookX.com.
  3. Administrators - Can consider new business models aimed at lowering the cost of textbooks for students (and forgo margins on course materials).
  4. Governments - Should follow California's example of developing Open Educational Resource materials for top core courses. Florida has done some important work on this too.
  5. Last but by no means least, faculty can do some comparisons of their own--they can consider the cost of textbooks and other course materials very seriously in their textbook adoptions. One tool we developed to help faculty do this is our textbook adoption tool (yes, it is a plug, but it is a free website open to any faculty).

So what did I do today to help textbook affordability (besides huffing and puffing through this blog)? I finished a white paper summarizing what college CFO's think about textbooks, especially their costs; and, I tested a new feature of our Akademos Textbook Adoption Tool due to launch any day now, which will rank schools by the affordability of their textbooks. I know it is not much, but it is something. Stay tuned.

What did you do today to help textbook affordability?

Textbook Affordability Commentary