The ABSOLUTELY outrageous cost of textbooks


Books in a shopping cart in a library – 8459” by Jorge Royan – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Why I care

Simple answer, I have to buy them. More complex answer, they betray a lot of socio-economical issues plaguing academia. There are multiple issues that I could talk about when it comes to textbooks, (such as how Texas influences what textbooks get made) but I’m selfish. I want to talk about my latest experience with buying textbooks. I want to talk about one element in particular: the obvious markup of school textbook stores. Now I want to make it clear, I’m not talking about a book store like this,

Winthrop, Washington - Trail's End Book Store 01
Awwwwwe, you can practically hear Ma and Pop talking

I’m talking about this kind of book store,

Maastricht, office buildings Kennedysingel2
If you listen really closely, you can hear the sounds of souls being crushed

My Experience

I recently began shopping for my textbooks for my first semester of my Psy.D program. Having not been in school for three years now I went to where I usually got books as an undergrad, the school book store. Since graduating from undergrad I have become much more money conscious (as almost everyone does), and after about 30 seconds into shopping on the school book store I realized that these prices sucked! So, I popped over to my two favorite places to buy things, Amazon and Ebay. Being a scientist (Don’t laugh, I am! I’ve done science and shit!) I recorded some data in a spread sheet. This spreadsheet to be exact!

Now if you are the sort of person who would rather slowly stab yourself in the eye before willingly looking at a spread sheet, relax, I’ll walk you through some of the finer points here. In the next section I’m going to lay out some raw data, so bear with me…

Wait, is he talking about me?


(This is going to be dry and semi-technical, so skip ahead to the Results if you get bored)

I started by constructing a complete list of every textbook I needed for this coming Fall. Then, I gathered the prices from these four sources: TCSPP* (new), TCSPP (used), Amazon, Ebay. All of the Amazon and Ebay prices are for used textbooks, and TCSPP has prices for both new and used, as labeled. When either store did not have a textbook, a ” 0 ” was left in that cell on the spreadsheet. Since I still needed to buy the textbook, it was assumed that I would purchase the textbook from TCSPP, at the used price. On the spread sheet this was reflected in the grey shaded lines at the bottom of each class section, and the “adjusted total” row in the bottom section.

The “total” row is the adjusted price, meaning the sum of all the textbooks that could be purchased from that particular store. The “adjustments” row is the sum of textbooks that needed to purchased from TCSPP (used). Therefore, in both TCSPP “new” and “used”, this value is ” 0 “. The “Adjusted Total” row is the sum of the “Total” row and the “Adjustments” row. The “Maximum” and “Minimum” rows are the highest and lowest price, respectively. The “Range” is the “Minimum” subtracted from the “Maximum.” The “Mean Average” is the average price of textbook from that store, and the “Standard Deviation” is the average price variation above and below the mean (aka. 68.26% of scores fall between the SD+Mean and Mean-SD)

Finally, I preformed an ANOVA on the data to see if there was a significant difference at 95% confidence interval (So I can say, “These difference are 95% likely to be the result of meaningful difference, rather than due to sampling error)

*TCSPP = The Chicago School of Professional Psychology (where I’m heading to in the Fall)


adj total

mean + SD
(68.26% of textbooks will be +/- one standard deviation from mean average)

Standard Deviation
TCSPP (New) $47.39 ($24.11 – $118.89)
TCSPP (Used) $33.11 ($18.11 – $84.33)
Amazon (Used) $18.38 ($6.95 – $43.71)
Ebay (Used) $25.41 ($10.84 – $61.66

range max min

ANOVA results
At α 0.05 = 2.76
At α 0.05 = 4.13
F score = 3.64

Don’t pictures make everything nicer!


OK, so that was rough for you non-technical types, but you science types should have felt right at home. Basically what can be said about this is that buying though my school book store sucks… like a lot. And those differences 95% probably not due to chance. Just looking at the basic descriptive stats here, a price difference from $940 (TCSPP Used) to $527 (Amazon) is a big fucking difference!

Now I’m not going to sit here and bash on my new school, I get it that higher education is a business now, unfortunately. I don’t know everything that goes into the pricing of the textbooks in the school book store. They might have some really shitty business deal that they are contractually obligated to maintain. I don’t know.

But a consumer, and a scientist, and a consumer of science (see what I did there… I’ll stop now) I would not recommend going to your school book store to get your textbooks. Amazon had all but one item on my list, and the remaining one was an access code for online textbook material. Ebay on the other hand, I would not really recommend as a primary source of textbooks. The prices were pretty comparable to TCSPP, although there were enough books priced in the same range as Amazon that If Amazon DIDN’T have a specific textbook, I would still check Ebay before buying it from the school store

There are obvious limitations to this study. This was one semester, in one program, at one school, and the prices of textbooks (especially on Ebay and Amazon) are highly variable. This basically amounts to anecdotal evidence, but with graphs and some basic stats. I am planning on gathering more data for this at every semester to try and bolster that 95% certainty to 99%, but still this could be isolated to my school, and my program. Though I don’t feel that this is the case. I have had the experience of blowing LOTS of money on my textbooks at every school book store I have ever bought in.

In conclusion, 1st you can see how much of a dork I am. That aside, if you find yourself in the future looking for textbooks, shop around, unless you have unlimited money, or enjoy federal loans that is.

Best regards,
B.G. Carter

UPDATE: I just found out that my school offers a book voucher that you can use to buy your books before the semester begins, with out paying out of pocket. The voucher exists so people can get their books without paying out of pocket and still use their federal student aid, BUT the voucher can only be used with TCSPP’s school book store.

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