College stores know all too well that students complain about the prices of textbooks. They’ve been doing it for years, but the noise has gotten much louder over the last decade—so loud that state and national legislators keep churning out laws and regulations in an effort to provide solutions.
Advances in technology have only increased the amount of criticism because most assumed that digital would automatically reduce costs. It hasn’t turned out that way because those assumptions never considered the price of content, according to Caroline Vanderlip, CEO of SharedBook Inc., in this Inside Higher Education essay. The prices have students staying away from digital format, when the cost is nearly the same as the printed version and rental is available as an option.
Some see potential in open educational resources to lower costs, but there’s work to be done in developing a system that delivers both the “free and open” OER content and commercially produced materials to students.
Vanderlip says merging traditional and free content has the best chance to make a quick impact on textbook pricing. Such merging would allow students to purchase only the material an instructor deems necessary, which would lower costs regardless of the format.