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In Search Of Affordable Textbooks: How OER Can Reduce Costs

Cloud created by:

Robert Farrow
27 October 2011

Nicole Allen

"The average student spends more than $1000 on textbooks each year. Come learn how OER is reversing that trend and what you can do to help."

Average cost of textbooks = $224

The cost of textbooks has risen by 4x the rate of inflation since 1989

PIRGS research suggests that prices are unnecessarily high and new editions are printed too often, requiring students to buy new editions.  Publishers need this to preserve revenues.  They also tend to bundle textbooks with uneccessary addons like CDs & digital passcodes which expire.  They also:

  • Withhold price information from professors
  • Charge lower prices in different markets
  • Sabotge resale through loose-leaf editions
  • Sometimes charge MORE for e-books (which can't be resold or expire)

Traditional market models are based on a relationship between consumer and producer.  But in textbook markets a three-way system includes academics - similarly to medical prescription.

But there are more ways to save than ever before:

  • Used books being resold
  • Renting textbooks
  • E-books (discounted) (although sometimes restricted with punitive T&C)
  • E-readers 
Most students (75%) would prefer to have printed books which they can keep.  However, rentals represent the most cost-effective option with the highest savings (33%).
Open Textbooks are like traditional textbooks, but they have an open licence, meaning they can be adapted or shared.  More than 2,000 courses use Open Textbooks at present, and new models are emerging.

Open Textbooks disrupt the model based on a dynamic between student/professor/academic.  Under the Open Textbook model, publishers provide content to professors and products to students.

Savings on Open Textbooks are typically 80% compared with 33% for rented textbooks.  This relates to around $100 per student per course: meaning that the potential savings are huge... something in the region of $500 million per year.


Student PIRGS

Student PIRGS are working to...

  • Expose the problem
  • Organise faculty
  • Promote price disclosure laws
  • Promote Open Textbooks
  • Form national coalitions is helping to organise all constituencies affected, including open access publishers, students, parents, faculty and others.  Their activities include a 40-campus tour, a petition ( and media coverage.
To get involved:
  • Faculty should consider open textbooks
  • Authors can put pressure on publishers
  • Students can put pressure on faculty

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