College textbook prices finally fall after two decades of increases

When Wilkes junior Seth Andress bought his textbooks for the fall semester, there was not a noticeable “sticker shock” in price from the year before.

Actually, prices had actually fallen.

Andress said he feels college students are using websites like to shop smarter and hypothesized that textbook retailers who have higher prices are beginning to hurt in their bottom lines.

The engineering student finds importance in trying to save hard-earned money on his textbooks, noting inflating tuition costs. Andress said while he finds himself shopping around for the lowest price, he does not go overboard.

“If I can’t find them on the first Google page, I usually don’t go much further than that,” Andress said., a website dedicated to comparing numerous booksellers including Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Chegg, has collected plenty of data on the subject. They track over eight million college textbooks throughout the course of the year.

“We have a lot of data gathered over (our) 20 years in the textbook markets, as well as surveys that we have done using professional survey companies,” said George Lopez, operations manager for CampusBooks.

“Recently, we have actually seen a decrease in (textbook) prices which is surprising,” Lopez said.

From January 2017 to January 2018, the average price of textbooks decreased by more than $10, according to CampusBooks.

“The sign of college textbook (prices) decreasing runs counter to the 20 year narrative of staggering price increases, which will be beneficial to those strapped with large student loans,” CampusBooks CEO Alex Neal said in a press release.

Lopez said while the latest data shows a drop in hard textbook prices and a rise in the electronic version cost, the overall price has still fallen. He noted that while eBook sales have increased by 37 percent since 2016, eBooks still only account for two percent of overall sales.

“Students may be completely digital these days — growing up on tablets and smartphones — but when it comes to the college classroom, hardback books still represent the best value and learning tool,” Neal said.

Neal also said CampusBooks has seen most studies lean in favor of print when it comes to comprehension and retention.

Wilkes senior Brittany Stanton said she used CampusBooks to compare prices and noticed a difference. This year, she spent approximately $245. Stanton said she is satisfied because that is less than her budgeted spending of $300.

After her search concluded, she bought two books in-store through Barnes and Noble and two others through online retailer Chegg.

“It’s a lot to try and manage debt from tuition, but it’s a lot more to manage paying for books because that money comes directly from me,” Stanton said.

Andress said his spending of $150 is higher than previous semesters, noting he relies more on the eBook versions for his books.

“I usually try and find my textbooks as PDFs online,” Andress said. “It’s easier than carrying around a backpack full of books.”He feels his situation allows him to skirt from the traditional hard copy texts because his professors rely on the books less.

College students are also beginning to explore the idea of renting in order to save money. CampusBooks reports that rentals “have seen a significant rise” and are now close to 20 percent of the market.

One question remains though: Are textbooks necessary for classes in order to be successful?

Stanton sees them as extremely important for her studies as an education major using her books “every day;” however, Andress sees little value in the text alone saying his professors do a good job of giving “all notes in handouts and PowerPoint slides.”