08:12 PM

11 Things You Didn't Know About Textbooks and Publishers

“Textbook” barely captures the range of course materials produced by professional publishers and in use on campuses across the country.

For over 10 years, publishers have redefined the concept of “textbooks” through content and technology innovations. Student and faculty benefit from countless options created to serve all kinds of learners and be cost-effective. Among them: digital and online textbooks, adaptive learning programs, downloadable single chapters, mobile apps, customizable textbooks and multiplatform supplemental resources.

Students can get all their course materials at deeply discounted prices (1).

Publishers now offer over 90% of their titles for digital licensing at costs as much as 60% below a print textbook purchase. In addition to convenience and cost, licensed digital course materials offer additional functionality including responsive design, online/offline on-demand access and tools for search, note-taking, sharing and printing.

Licensed content is just one of many cost-saving options available from publishers (2).

Publishers offer black-and-white editions, print-it-yourself downloadable editions, even individual online chapters (3) for as little as $1.99 (4).

Finding out about all these options is easy.

Want to find a wider range of price points for getting textbooks? CourseSmart, the digital rental service launched in 2007 by publishers, licenses 90%+ of the current core higher ed titles — over 40,000 titles from 60 publishers — with instant-access subscription plans covering a semester’s worth of materials. Also ask your professor about available formats for required reading, since publishers provide that information to universities, and your campus bookstore. And visit publishers’ websites, which are information-rich and often sell directly.

It takes $500,000 (5)-$3 million (6), up to 7,000 hours’ research and writing (7) and nearly 200 scholars (8) to produce a new textbook or revise an existing one.

High-quality course material requires professional research, writing, editing, vetting, graphics and illustrations, design, production and distribution. Publishers also produce supplemental tools, extensive faculty support materials and accessibility for students with print disabilities. Digital content has additional costs. Students and faculty expect tech products aligned with content, requiring development, testing, training and ongoing upgrades. Content must be digitized to match — or exceed — the print experience. And something you might not realize: since retailers keep their platforms incompatible, all digitization needs to be adapted multiple times.

There’s no such thing as "free textbooks."

Some companies offer a free single online book license but make you buy the print version, testing, study guides and other standard collateral material…like getting a free car chassis but having to buy the tires, engine, seats and everything else. Other companies provide free textbooks to capture and monetize your personal data, raising privacy questions. When universities and other non-profits produce free textbooks, you should ask: Is funding coming from students’ tuition fees? If government-funded, is content independent of political interference? Is content digital or just print, and is technology current and upgraded? Is the content accessible to people with print disabilities?

The used rental print book industry is a contributing factor to rising textbook costs.

One way publishers contain prices is through a consistent stream of new materials being bought in the marketplace. The used print book rental market — which provides significant profits to the rental businesses — keeps old books in circulation, reducing the need for replacements and further limiting publishers’ ability to recoup investments.

Student spending on course materials has decreased or stayed flat for the past four years (9).

Per market researcher Student Monitor, the average 2013-2014 student spend for all course materials (including print, eTextbooks, used books and rentals) was $520. It reported that the average spend specifically for new print textbooks was $245, down -31% from Spring 2010, and spending for all formats including eTextbooks and rentals fell -17% too. And read the fine print on surveys claiming these costs are up: Many surveys only track print textbook purchases and ignore licensing and e-formats or they lump course materials in a bigger “books and supplies” category along with computers, lab supplies and other expenses.

Publishers ensure that students with print disabilities have the same learning experiences as their peers.

Every student has the right to the same experience in learning. Publishers build accessibility into their materials and have been at the forefront of ensuring that students with print disabilities can learn competitively through the digital transition. Publishers co-founded the user-friendlyAccessText Network in 2009, connecting students and their campus DSS offices with publishers’ accessible content — currently a 335,000-title database (10). In partnership with the National Federation of the Blind, publishers helped bring the TEACH Act to Congress.

“Cheap” means nothing if you don’t pass and graduate.

What differentiates professional publishers’ course materials from non-professionals’ works are the investments made to create learning solutions supporting student success: whether students complete courses and graduate. Publishers incorporate tested, proven learning methods into the content they design, combined with state-of-the-art learning-based technology. If you’re dedicating the time and money to a college education, your learning materials should be more than “good enough.”

What’s more popular on campus: print or digital (11) (12)?

Impossible to say. The few existing surveys are too narrow. And habits and preferences will evolve as current students are replaced by more digital younger siblings. Publishers will continue to provide all students at all learning levels in all formats and options they want.

Want more information or an interview with an industry leader? Contact info@publishers.org


(2) To view a range of available options, visit CengageBrain's page for N. Gregory Mankiw's Principles of Economics
(3) CengageBrain Frequently Asked Questions, click Purchase Information category, expand What purchase options are available on CengageBrain?
(4) CengageBrain eBooks & eChapters
(5) Open Stax (Rice University) press release
(6) Turning the Page: An economic analysis of the market for textbooks: Current conditions, new developments and policy options; Lumina Foundation 2013, James Koch, page 7
(7) Statistics from Campbell Biology, 10th edition (Pearson)
(8) Statistics from Campbell Biology, 10th edition (Pearson)
(9) Student Monitor
(10) ATN Authorized User FAQ wiki page
(11) According to Student Monitor (Spring 2014 report), 29% of students prefer print textbooks over digital (page 68).
(12) According to Student Monitor (Spring 2014 report), "students are as likely to prefer a laptop as print when reading/studying textbooks and doing problem sets." (page 74)


The Association of American Publishers (AAP) represents about four hundred member organizations including major commercial, digital learning and education and professional publishers alongside independents, non-profits, university presses and scholarly societies. We represent the industry’s priorities on policy, legislative and regulatory issues regionally, nationally and worldwide. These include the protection of intellectual property rights and worldwide copyright enforcement, digital and new technology issues, funding for education and libraries, tax and trade, censorship and literacy. Find us online at www.publishers.org or on twitter at @AmericanPublish.