The Comprehensive Guide To College Textbook Trends [Infographic]

There are statistics that show the different trends of college textbooks throughout the web, but they are spread out. We have put them together in one list for you. The list covers:

  • faculty and their use and choosing of textbooks
  • students and their use (or not use) of textbooks along with their buying habits
  • the price of textbooks
  • access codes and how they affect students
  • OER and the barriers to it
  • bookstores and publishers

After reading, let us know what you think. What trends stick out to you?


The Comprehensive Guide to Textbook Trends

Faculty and Textbooks

  • 68% of faculty require a textbook for their classes.1
  • 53% of faculty require other printed material, such as articles and case studies. 1
  • 89% of faculty either changed required materials, substantially modified, or created a new course over the previous two years. 1
  • “Comprehensive Content” and “Cost to the Student” are the two most important factors faculty use for choosing a textbook. 1
  • 67% of faculty are the sole decision maker for new or revised course material. 1
  • 22% of faculty engage in a group decision for new or revised course material. 1
  • 29% of faculty prefer digital materials, 32% prefer print materials, and 39% are neutral. 1


Students and Textbooks

How prices affect student purchasing:

  • 66% of students did not purchase a required textbook because of the cost.2,3,4
  • 94% of the students who skipped buying the textbook said they recognized that doing so would have an impact on their grade.2
  • 47.6% of students said they have taken fewer classes because of textbook costs, 45.5% said they did not register for a course, 26.1% said they dropped a course, and 20.7% said they have withdrawn from a course because of the cost of textbooks.2,3
  • 33% of students have used financial aid in order to purchase their needed textbooks.2
  • 63% of students look online for content because of not having the textbook.4
  • 58% share their textbooks with their friends.4

Student preferences:

  • 75% of students said that they would prefer a print textbook over a digital textbook if cost was not a factor.5
  • 60% of students said that if a print copy of a textbook was affordably priced ($20-$40), they would purchase it even if the digital version was free.5
  • 33% of students said that they would be comfortable reading a textbook on a computer screen, 22% said they would be uncomfortable, and 45% are in-between.5

How students buy

  • 67% of college student buy used textbooks. 4,6
    55% of students rent or have rented textbooks or course materials.7
  • 25% of students buy new textbooks.4
  • 25% of students download e-textbooks.4
  • 80% of students visit the campus bookstore. 7
  • 57% look online or at other retailers.7
  • As students progress through college, they buy less new textbooks and rent more.4
  • 33% of rented material is new, 67% is used.24

What students do after the class:

  • 55% of students have sold their books back to the campus bookstore.4
  • 48% have kept them.4
  • 45% have sold their books online.4
  • 35% have sold their books directly to other students.4


The Price of Textbooks

  • Textbook prices increased by 1,041% between 1977 and 2015.8
  • From January 2006 to July 2016, the cost of textbooks increased 88%. 9
  • College Board’s estimates that the average cost for textbooks and supplies for an average undergrad 4-year public college student is about $1,298 (that’s if everything is bought new).10
  • In 2014 students spent $500 to $1500 annually on course materials.11
  • Faculty report that the average cost of their required textbooks range from $68 to $182, depending on what discipline or department they are in, with the average price at $97.1
  • A new textbook depreciates 40% after one semester and 60% after two.4
  • Renting a textbook can often save between 50-85% or more on cost.12,13,14
  • Freshmen spend an average of $572 per semester, sophomores $531, juniors $439, and seniors $421.4


Textbooks & The Campus Bookstore

  • The average profit margin for a college bookstore is 21.1%.15
  • 47% of students buy their text books at college bookstores.15
  • $10,450,000,000 is spent annually at college bookstores.15
  • Bookstores increase the selling price of textbooks on average between 25-28%.16
  • Campus bookstores get an average of 21.6 cents for every dollar spent on a textbook.1


The Impact of Access Codes

  • 32% of courses have required materials that include access codes (with the greatest percentage at community colleges (37.5%)).2
  • 80% of students reported having at least one class with an access code in Fall 2013.2
  • The average cost of an access code by itself was $100.24 at campus bookstores.2
  • The amount of material with access codes ranged differently between majors, with accounting at 90%, Psychology at 50%, and History and Criminal Justice at 0%.2
  • Only 28% of access codes were available in unbundled form in bookstores.2
  • Access codes eliminate a student’s ability to find alternative ways to use the textbook (such as borrowing or using the library) because the individual access code is required.2
  • Access codes make it harder for students to buy or sell a used textbook because access codes are one-time use only.2


 Textbook Publishers and Publishing

  • 80% of the textbook market is controlled by five publishers.18,19
  • Publishers are losing money. In 2016, Pearson reported a loss of more than $3 billion, Cengage $176 million, McGraw Hill Education $116 million, and Wiley’s printed textbook sales dropped 31% and digital textbooks 14% in the first quarter (compared to 2015).720,21
  • Publishers report that digital sales are overtaking print sales (but there are questions and disagreements on what constitutes a “sale”).22
  • 69% of spending on textbooks goes towards print materials.23
    31% of student course material spending goes to digital formats (22% purchases, 9% rentals).23


Open Educational Resources (OER)

  • 30% of faculty say they are “aware” or “very aware” of open educational resources.1
  • Barriers to OER adoption by faculty:
    • Difficult to find what I need – 50%
    • Lack of resources for my subject – 47%
    • Concerns about updates – 29%
    • Not high-quality – 28%
    • Questions on permission to use or change – 23%
    • Lack of track record – 20%
    • No good print options – 20%
    • Lack of associated materials 18%
    • Not used by other faculty – 16%
    • Not current, up-to-date – 16%
    • Other – 9% 1
  • 9% of faculty say they use open-licensed textbooks. 1
  • 44% of faculty said they would either use or consider using OER in the future.1
  • 5% of faculty teaching large enrollment classes use OpenStax textbooks with an average textbook cost of $31.1

















[15]College Textbook Industry Statistics– Statistic Brain.”
2017 Statistic Brain Research Institute, publishing as Statistic Brain.
September 4, 2016*