I’ve written before about the unsustainable college textbook bubble, which is illustrated in the chart above. Between January 1998 and September 2013, the CPI for college textbooks has increased by more than 144%, compared to an increase of only 44.4% for the CPI for all items, and an increase of only 0.6% for the CPI for recreational books. In real terms, the cost of college textbooks has increased by more than 69% over the last 15 years, while at the same time the real cost of recreational books has fallen by more than 30%.
The reason that the college textbook bubble is on an unsustainable price trajectory and is already starting to show some initial signs of deflating is because of the increasing amount of competition for the college textbook market. For example, here are some alternatives to the best-selling Principles of Microeconomics by Greg Mankiw, which has a list price of $306.
a) For only $19.99, students can purchase a “Full online text alternative with SmartNotes (that summarize long text into the key points and the terms students need to study effectively), quizzes and flashcards” from Boundless that exactly matches the material in the Mankiw textbook.
b) Textbook Media Press offers the textbook “Principles of Microeconomics” by Timothy Taylor starting at only $19.95 for an online version of the book. Alternatively, students can buy the “digital bundle” version of the book for $27.95, which adds downloadable PDF chapters for self-printing and off-line studying to the online version, or a black-and-white paperback print version for $38.
c) For $35, students can get online access to the book “Principles of Microeconomics” (by Libby Rittenberg and Timothy Tregarthen) from Flat World Knowledge. A black-and-white hard copy text costs only $50.
OpenStax College is another new challenger to the textbook cartel. They just started last year, so the selection of textbooks is currently limited to about five titles (Statistics, Anatomy, Physics, Sociology and Biology), but they’ve got lots of new titles scheduled for release in Winter 2014 including Principles of Macroeconomics, Principles of Microeconomics, Chemistry and US History. According to a Chronicle of Higher Education article, “OpenStax is working to build a catalog of 25 textbooks that will pack the biggest possible punch for students. Its offerings are being developed based on college courses with the most students in the United States—and those with the most expensive textbooks.”
And what sets OpenStax apart from the other competitors is that they are offering free, open source textbooks, here’s more information from its website:
OpenStax College is a nonprofit organization committed to improving student access to quality learning materials. Our free textbooks are developed and peer-reviewed by educators to ensure they are readable, accurate, and meet the scope and sequence requirements of your course. Through our partnerships with companies and foundations committed to reducing costs for students, OpenStax College is working to improve access to higher education for all. OpenStax College is an initiative of Rice University and is made possible through the generous support of several philanthropic foundations.
Here’s a video about OpenStax:
Bottom Line: Hear that hissing sound? It’s the sound of the college textbook bubble starting to deflate…… The era of the college textbook cartel and $300 college textbooks is ending.