Textbook prices remain high despite transition to eBooks

Students turning to online rentals instead of paper textbooks

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Despite efforts to reduce textbook costs, students remain frustrated with the high prices they must pay each year at the school bookstore.

Over the past few years, an increasing number of teachers have stopped using paper textbooks for their classes. Instead, they are choosing digital alternatives because they are less expensive and more convenient.

Math teacher Terry Phillips said that in the math department the textbook price plays a significant role in the decision process when textbooks are chosen each year.

“One of the reasons we [switched] to the eBooks is that it turns out to be less expensive for a lot of our students to rent the license for a year versus having to buy the book.”

Phillips added that all three of his math sections this year have rented eBooks through Cengage.

Chemistry teacher Bill Loris reported a similar switch to e-books in the science department, however the reason behind the swap was slightly different. Loris felt it was unfair to ask his students to pay hundreds of dollars for a hardcover textbook that isn’t integral to the class curriculum.

“A lot of the science teachers use textbooks as an additional resource for the students as opposed to following along chapter by chapter, section by section. So, we tend to have our own materials that we use, and textbooks are in addition,” said Loris.

This year, his classes are utilizing OpenStax, a nonprofit group whose eBooks can be accessed free of cost.

School bookstore manager Khryss Holland said these changes have resulted in a substantial textbook price drop since he first started working at the bookstore in September of 2002.

“Prior to the switch to digital books and the launching of rental, average student textbook costs were around $850.00 per year. Since the switch to digital and rental, [the price] has actually fallen to a range of $100.00 to $200.00, depending on the level of classes a student is taking.”

Despite this price decrease, students still feel that textbook prices are unreasonably high.
Sophomore Grace Ryan, who spent roughly $150 on her books this year, believes that eBooks and other online materials are priced much higher than they should be.

“You’re not paying for hardcover and the actual paper. I feel like it really could be so much cheaper,” said Ryan.

Junior Isabel Mangum, who said she spent at least $200 on books this year, provided an example of why costs can quickly add up at the school bookstore.

“I have one paperback book for English that is a really important text that we will be working with all year, but it cost about $70 dollars with tax,” said Mangum.
These high prices have led many students to question whether they should skip the school bookstore altogether and shop online for their books in an attempt to reduce prices.

“[I] probably should have gone on Amazon and rented them. I don’t really know why [I] didn’t,” said Sophomore Ellie Wilens who said she paid approximately $150 for her textbooks in total.

Senior Cain Humphrey pointed out that ordering books online has its downsides.
“They’re cheaper on Amazon, but sometimes they take a while, like a month, to ship.”
Many students are further frustrated by the prices they have to pay because they oftentimes purchase books that they don’t end up using in class.

“Last year, my math textbook, we bought it and then we didn’t use the entire year, and that was probably like $80,” said senior Isabella Rechtin. She spent $200 on textbooks this year.
Junior Alex Stofflemay echoed Rectin’s sentiment that a fair amount of the textbooks he purchases for classes are either untouched or only used a handful of times.

“There is a world history book that we never even opened [last year]. Probably math is the only one we consistently use every time,” said Stofflemay.

The New Trier bookstore is loathed by students for its exorbitant prices for online textbooks

Holland acknowledged that the school can and should work to continue to reduce textbook prices.
“We need to ask the question, ‘is there a comparable product available from the same or another publisher that costs less and would achieve the same teaching outcomes as the more expensive book being used or considered?’ Also, we need to take a look at programs such as IncludEd or Follett Access that charge a flat fee.”

In the meantime, Holland said that students should feel free to share any suggestions or constructive criticisms.

“I would encourage any student with an idea about how the bookstore can better serve the New Trier community to drop by and discuss it with me,” said Holland.