The following was originally published on the UH OER blog on September 5, 2017,
This guest post was written by John Lynham, grant recipient and project lead developing OER for the ECON 130 microeconomics undergraduate course at UHM.
One of the questions I sometimes ask students in my introductory Principles of Microeconomics class is “Why are textbooks so expensive compared to other books?”. Part of the reason is that the market for textbooks is not like the market for other books: the person who chooses the book isn’t actually the person who pays for it. Most of the time, when you want to buy a new book you go to a bookstore (or online), choose the book that you want and then pay for it. But with textbooks, the professor chooses the book and then the students in the class have to go out and pay for it. This creates a disconnect between the person demanding the book and the person actually paying for it. In economics jargon: demand is “inelastic” or less responsive to changes in price. If the price of a textbook goes up by 10% many professors might not even notice since they never have to buy the book themselves. In addition, for some reason I can never figure out, the Instructors’ Edition of the textbook that professors receive for free never lists the price of the book on the back…
It shouldn’t be too surprising then that textbook prices increased 300% from 1986 to 2004 but the prices of most other goods only increased 80%. One of the most popular textbooks for the class I teach has a list price of $249.95! You can buy a new hardback edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on Amazon for $16.16. I know which one I would prefer to read! In response to the exorbitant cost of textbooks, I started using a free Creative Commons (CC) licensed OpenStax textbook a few years ago. It’s a very good book, my students really like it, and I always encourage other faculty members to adopt it.
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