Following a newly effective federal law on textbook affordability, INPIRG today released a report calling rentals, e-books and e-readers short-term remedies, and hailing open textbooks as the next step to rein in runaway costs. Already, more than 1,300 professors across the country are using open textbooks - which are high-quality, openly licensed texts that are free online and affordable in print - saving students 80% on average, according to the new report. With textbook prices rising more than four times the rate of inflation, INPIRG calls on publishers, colleges and government to support the creation of more open textbooks.
"The average student spends $900 per year on textbooks, which can be the 'tipping point' between affording college and dropping out because of cost. We need to act now to make textbooks affordable," said INPIRG campaign coordinator, Jaclyn Hogan.
Congress took a monumental step forward by passing a set of landmark provisions in the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008. Five years of INPIRG research and advocacy on textbook affordability helped secure this victory for students. The new federal law went into effect on July 1st, making this fall the first semester with the requirements in place. The main requirements are:
Publishers must disclose critical price and revision information to professors when marketing textbooks. Publishers must offer separate versions of their bundled textbooks. Colleges must list the required textbooks for each class during registration.
The new report, entitled A Cover to Cover Solution: How Open Textbooks Are The Path To Textbook Affordability, evaluates cost-reducing options from the traditional textbook market - rentals, e-books and e-readers - and open textbooks as potential next steps to reduce the high cost of textbooks. The report finds that student attitudes toward digital textbooks and renting vary widely, so the solution must accommodate many different preferences in order to extend savings to all students. Rentals, e-books and e-readers only appeal to a subset of students, and therefore cannot be long-term solutions. On the other had, open textbooks offer a range of affordable options including print copies, PDFs and free web-based versions that can satisfy all students. The report concludes that promoting new alternatives like open textbooks should be the next step toward making textbooks affordable.
"This report confirms what we already knew: textbook publishers fail to offer affordable alternatives, but it also proves that viable solutions like open textbooks are out there," said Jaclyn Hogan. "While cost-saving options like rentals and e-books will remain important in the short term, we must prioritize open textbooks to lower prices in the long run."
INPIRG joined other student PIRGs from across the country to release the report on a national conference call with speakers including Hal Plotkin, Senior Policy Advisor at the U.S. Department of Education, Dr. Mason Carpenter, Professor of Leadership at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a well-known textbook author, and Dr. D. Steven White, Professor of Marketing & International Business at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth.
The report is based on a survey of 1,428 students from ten campuses and an analysis of prices for 100 textbooks from 10 common college courses. Among the major findings are:
Student preferences regarding digital textbooks and renting vary widely.
Nine out of ten (93%) of the students would rent at least some of their textbooks, but only a third (34%) would rent all of them. 75% of the students surveyed said print was their preferred format; a total of 25% chose digital (21% chose e-textbooks and 4% chose e-readers). This finding is nearly identical to a student survey we conducted in 2008.
"I think a lot of people assume that students will automatically switch to digital textbooks since we use computers for everything else. However, I know that I prefer to use print textbooks because I take notes in the book as I follow along with lectures during class," said Emily Longhi, INPIRG student activist.
Cost-reducing options for traditional textbooks offer limited savings, because they do not appeal to all students.
Traditional textbook options, which include rentals, e-books and e-readers, could reduce the average cost of textbooks by 34% from $900 to $598 per year. Renting is the most effective option, with the ability to reduce average costs by 33%. E-books and e-readers could only reduce average costs 8% and 1% respectively, because so few students prefer to use digital textbooks
Open textbooks can reduce costs dramatically for all students and have the potential for long-term sustainability.
Open textbooks could reduce the average cost of textbooks by 80% from $900 to $184 per year. Authors and publishers of open textbooks could recover their costs through the sale of print copies and other optional items: 60% of the students from a previous survey would buy a low-cost print copy even though the full text is available free online.
"Performance in the classroom suffers when students don't have access to their texts. We owe it to our students to consider using open textbooks," said Dr. D. Steven White, Professor of Marketing & International Business at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, who saved his students more than $11,000 this fall by switching to open textbooks.
The report concludes by acknowledging that the success of open textbooks depends on the development of sustainable publishing models and makes the following recommendations:
Publishers should develop new models that can produce high quality books without imposing excessive costs on students. Faculty should seek, consider and adopt open textbooks whenever possible. Colleges and governments should invest in the creation of more open textbooks and sustainable models. Students should take action against high costs by spreading the word about open textbooks.
INPIRG is a non-profit, non-partisan student advocacy groups that works on public interest issues pertaining to the environment, consumer protection and government reform. INPIRG has a 7-year history of groundbreaking research on the issue of textbook affordability.