As College Costs Continue to Increase, Textbook Costs Decline

Follett explains how new options deliver big savings opportunities for students

Aug 19, 2015, 12:42 ET from Follett

WESTCHESTER, Ill., Aug. 19, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- While tuition prices continue to soar, the cost of textbooks and other course material is being kept in check by an increasing number and variety of low-cost alternatives. In the 2014-2015 school year; college students spent an annual average of $563 on textbooks and course materials, according to the National Association of College Stores. That's down from $701 in 2007-2008; despite the fact students are still buying the same amount of course materials.

According to Follett's higher education division, which has been selling books for more than 140 years and today manages over 1,200 college bookstores, the best way to determine how to acquire textbooks and course materials for the fall 2015 semester is to weigh the pros and cons of the growing collection of affordable options.  According to John C. Hoffman, Vice President of Business Intelligence, Follett Corporation, this chart illustrates the average potential savings a student can realize when in the market for a $100 textbook.  

$100 Book

New

Used

Rental

Digital

Custom Savings Programs

Student Cost

$100

$75

$50-$65

$40-$60

$30

Here are the options available to students as they buy books this fall, and some tips for navigating the pros and cons of each:

  1. Buying new textbooks: If you have the money and want to keep a book forever, then buying it new is your best bet. Generally this applies to primary textbooks within your major that you'll reference repeatedly, mark up with notes, and keep even after college. But because new books carry the highest cost, be sure you actually want to keep them. If it's a first edition, used copies will be hard to find. If the content of the book is likely to change over time, you may want to consider other options. 
  2. Buying used textbooks:  For those who want to avoid paying full price for a new book, used textbooks sell for roughly 25 percent less, and you can choose to keep them when you're done or sell them again to recoup some of the cost for an even greater savings.  The downside: while used textbooks are cheaper, they may come complete with notes and highlights from the previous owners. Also, not all used books come with supplemental materials required by professors, such as an online application passcode, DVD or worksheets.
  3. Renting textbooks:  Students who are even more cost-conscious can rent textbooks from 35 percent to 50 percent off the retail price. This is great for people on a budget, but it isn't without drawbacks. First of all, rental isn't for every student and every situation.  While savings are potentially deep, students have to return the book on or before a set date – which is usually tied to finals week. Also, some companies don't allow you to highlight or make notes in a rented book, and late fees could apply if it is not returned on time.  In some cases, you'll have the option to buy that rented book, but your total out-of-pocket cost may be higher than if you would have initially purchased it used.
  4. Buying the license for digital books:  Many students are opting for digital course materials. Accessing your textbooks online can save anywhere between 40 and 60 percent compared to buying a new book. This is truly the best of all worlds, allowing you to save money and access the content anywhere, anytime, without having to carry a heavy book.  Programs like BryteWave from Follett have rolled textbooks and study tools into one product, giving students the ability to highlight, take notes, and organize notes using your existing laptop, tablet, or phone.  So if you're mobile, always studying on-the-go, and accessing your education from multiple locations, the digital option might be best.
  5. Custom Programs:  Ask your dean, admissions officer or local campus store manager what custom programs your institution may have in place for even deeper savings.  Today, more and more schools are offering the option of including the cost of required materials directly in tuition and fees.  This puts materials in the hands of students for the first day of class, and most times, at deeper discounts than what's available online. 
  6. Building a Professional Library: Don't immediately default to the lowest cost – in the end, it may cost you more.  Mix types and formats of textbooks to match class requirements to your immediate and longer term plans for the book, as well as your budget and career goals.  If that economics textbook is core to your studies as a business major, buy it new and keep it for years and reference it later. But because that English class is not likely to be core to future economists, save money by renting that big book of poetry and give it back at winter break.  Remember most digital content licenses expire—and no doubt so will your computer—so if you really want a book as a reference, go for the hard copy.

Other tips:

  1. Many students and their families are completely unaware financial aid money can be used to buy books and supplies. Students don't often read the fine print of grants, which means book money is left on the table. If there are still funds left after tuition, use it to cover or defray the cost of course materials.
  2. Many bookstores offer to pay students the difference between buying a book online and buying it at the bookstore.  If you buy a book and then find it elsewhere at a lower price, ask the bookstore manager if there is a low-price guarantee or price-match program that offers you compensation for the difference in price between a new, used, or rented book found at another source. Every little bit helps, and it allows you to leverage the best prices in the market at your local, campus-connected bookstore.
  3. Don't forget the library.  While there won't be enough to go around, school libraries typically carry copies of the current curriculum.  That means that for some titles, like a recommended reading, you don't ever need to hit your wallet.  Free is good.

Information on Follett's book-buying options can be found at www.bkstr.com. For more information about the Follett Higher Education Group, go to https://www.follett.com/higher-ed.

ABOUT FOLLETT CORPORATION | follett.com
For more than 140 years, Follett has been a trusted partner to pre-K and K-12 schools, districts, and college campuses, taking care of the critical details that make it easier for schools to run, teachers to teach and students to learn. Every day, Follett serves over half of the students in the United States, and works with 70,000 schools as a leading provider of education technology, services and print and digital content. Follett is higher education's largest campus retailer and a hub for school spirit and community, operating more than 1,200 local campus stores and 1,600 virtual stores across the continent. Headquartered in Westchester, Illinois, Follett is a $2.6 billion privately held company. For more information on Follett, visit www.follett.com.

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SOURCE Follett