The Class of 2017 is about to graduate, having faced the highest cost of attending college ever. Tuition has outpaced inflation for decades, and today attention is focused on all components of college, including textbooks. Efforts to control the cost of textbooks should not ignore economics.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that tuition and textbook prices increased 240% and 186% between 1986 and 2004, compared with inflation of 72%. The $10 billion annual textbook market exhibits some of the same cost disease seen with tuition, although not quite as bad.
Textbooks attract attention because they are a highly visible component of cost: After paying thousands for tuition, students and parents must buy books that can cost up to $400 each. Such prices produce significant sticker shock. Seventy percent of students report not buying texts for at least one class.