Textbook affordability at W&M

Posted on September 20, 2019

By Marian Taliaferro - Digital Scholarship Librarian

Have you heard about textbook prices? National surveys indicate that students are now spending about $1200 each year if they purchase all of the textbooks required for their classes. This may be surprising to those of us who graduated from college some time ago, but the increase in textbook prices has far outpaced the increase in inflation, nearly doubling from 1998-2008 alone, and going up over 1,000% since 1977.

Not only has the expense for textbooks increased, but students often now are required to purchase temporary access codes to e-books or to buy supplemental content, such as online problem sets and quizzes, for their courses. If ebook access codes are required, obtaining a print copy of the text is an additional expense, and if the students don’t purchase that, then they don’t retain access to any of the textbook content after the end of the semester.

Speaking of temporary access, textbook publishers are working hard to promote ebook rentals. One publisher, Pearson, recently announced that it will be pulling back on its print business and making revisions primarily to its online versions, which will be discounted while its print copies will go up in price. Nationally, students are moving more toward electronic formats, but W&M has so far bucked that trend. Unless student preferences change in the next year or two, that could be problematic as W&M students so far have overwhelmingly opted for print versions (particularly rentals) of their textbooks.

While the vast majority of W&M students so far have opted for print textbooks, there are some who do prefer online texts. They are lighter to carry to class (using a laptop or other mobile device), are more searchable and offer multimedia technology to help students learn. They can also be more accessible for those with visual or other disabilities, and they may offer supplemental tools, such as interactive questions and answers, videos and more.

W&M Libraries is working with the Student Assembly and others to issue a survey https://tinyurl.com/WMtextbooksurvey to learn more from W&M students on how much they spend on textbooks, how they cope with the cost, what formats they prefer and more. W&M students, faculty and staff are also collaborating on a new textbook affordability task force, to learn more about practices around textbook adoption and use around campus, as well as to come up with some options to present on the issue of textbook affordability. Learn more on our campus guide on textbook affordability