he cost of studying in college has been increasing every year. According to the College Board, the average amount spent on college textbooks alone was as much as $1,240. This makes it no surprise that one major contributor to the rising cost of college is the purchase of textbooks.

That's why many students are calling for the implementation of policies that allow for free access to textbooks, including the availability of free textbook websites. However, it remains to be seen how feasible these proposals are in practice.

So, should college textbooks be free? Are the advantages worth the underlying downsides? Let’s find out.

The Rise of College Textbook Costs and the Impact On Students

Looking at the average figure for college textbooks, it's not as high as tuition fees. However, it's still expensive enough to create a huge dent in your budget. It’s also a big problem for students who are struggling to afford their college studies.

When college textbooks get too expensive to procure, it causes a lot of students to clamor for free college materials. The aftermath of a hike in college prices sees students skip buying textbooks altogether. Since they can't afford the new prices, they'd rather find their way around it than go broke trying to procure college texts. Now, that’s not a good idea as it opens the path to a negative college experience.

But there’s more to it. A lot goes into play when considering whether free college textbooks are a good idea.

fifty dollar bills fanned out on top of a college notebook at a desk
Tuition is expensive enough without piling hundreds of dollars in textbooks onto the bill.

An Insight Into the Hike of College Costs

We tend to ask ourselves why college textbooks are so expensive in the first place. Why is it getting harder to add the latest textbooks to your shelves?

The first factor to look at is the cost of production. Surely anything that costs money and resources to produce won't be sold for free. It makes no sense, to be honest, and it only puts the manufacturers at a loss.

And when you consider the resources put in, such as raw materials, the workforce, the production instruments, time put in, and the publishing process, the textbooks couldn't possibly go for free.

In the same vein, there needs to be more market competition when it comes to college textbooks. We mean here that there's hardly an alternative brand or book for your textbooks. You have just one book choice, making it harder to save money while buying them.

Another factor contributing to a price hike is the revision of books. Every year or two, there's a new edition on the block. And this revision comes with a slight price hike. Older editions are always cheaper but, sadly, hardly recommended.

Again, looking at the factors mentioned, it's no surprise that there are cries for college textbooks to be made free. However, before we can conclude if it's the right step, let's look at the pros and cons of free college textbooks.

Pros of Having Free College Textbooks

female college student carrying free college textbooks and smiling
Free college textbooks can ease some of the financial stress of attending college.

1. Easy Access

When textbooks are made free to access, they undoubtedly become available to all students. At that point, every student can get the textbooks they need to study and pass their college courses. Also, it means that students don't need to find alternatives or sources for external materials and just collect the main thing.

2. Helps Save Money

Over a thousand dollars is how much students spend on textbooks annually. You're shaving a huge chunk of your expenses with free textbooks. That way, you can breathe a little rather than pant over the risk of going broke every semester. It also means that you can put more money into your personal life.

3. Reduces Stress Levels

With one less expense to worry about, students can move on with their studies freely. No more headaches about when the textbooks will run out of stock or if the books will get a price hike in the new year.

4. Makes Studying Easier

And when you combine all the above factors, they sum up to a seamless, smooth run across the 4-5 years of your stay in college.

5. Improved College Completion Rate

A stress-free educational process will invariably lead to an improvement in college completion rate. Students have the most important things they need, reducing the obstacles to completing their courses.

Cons of Having Free College Textbooks

open college textbooks in a pile on a library table
Can using free college textbooks do more harm than good?

1. Publishers Run Out of Business

The publishers feel the telling effects of free college textbooks. When textbooks are made free, it completely removes the value of the production process. Publishers no longer enjoy incentives for their products. It's only a matter of time before they fold and go out of business.

2. Manufacturers Run Losses

Asides from making knowledge available in readable formats, textbooks are also sold to make profits. No book author or manufacturer loves running losses. When textbooks are made free, there's no gain in publishing textbooks, forcing book authors to find new markets for their books.

3. Affects the Overall Production of New Books

With no incentive to keep producing new textbooks, book publishers are forced to halt production. Free textbooks mean that publishers will be exhausting resources out of their wallets. As time goes on, it becomes increasingly difficult to sustain the production of new books.

Other Hacks for Reducing College Textbook Costs

When free textbooks aren’t available, students can still beat the price hike through several hacks. These include:

  • Renting textbooks online or from stores to reduce costs
  • Purchasing used and old textbooks
  • Opting for digital copies of school books
  • Sharing textbook costs with friends
  • Applying for textbook scholarships

Wrapping Up

No one wants to spend a fortune on textbooks, regardless of their importance. However, what we want tends to differ from what we need, so buying textbooks will always be a college priority. Having free college textbooks is one way to ease the burden, but considering the effects, it's left to be seen how feasible that is.

Aug 9, 2023