Market Overview

Student Spending on College Textbooks Declines for Third Consecutive Year


Student Spending on Course Materials has Declined Significantly over
Past 10 Years, from about $700 to $500 Annually

Average Amount Spent on Each Course Material Unit Declines from $66
in 2016-2017 Academic Year to $64 in the 2017-2018 Academic Year

According to two new studies, college students spent an average of $500
on textbooks and course materials during the 2017-2018 academic year.
This new data, from the National Association of College Stores (NACS)
and independent research firm Student Monitor®, found that
student spending on materials declined for the third consecutive year.
The average amount students spent on a course material unit was $64 – a
3% decline over the prior academic year according to Student Monitor.

  • The Student
    survey from NACS reported a $95 decline in student
    spending on required course materials to $484
    in the 2017-2018
    academic year
    , compared to $579 in the 2016-2017 academic year.
  • Student
    reported a $36 decline in spending on course materials
    to $507
    in the 2017-2018 academic year, down from $543 in
    the 2016-2017 academic year.

By contrast, students reported spending an additional $612 on technology
and school supplies (like laptops and USB drives) in 2017-2018, $106 (or
21%) more than the previous academic year according to Student Watch.
This makes course materials one
of the only areas
of reduced spending for students.

The findings from Student Watch and Student Monitor are consistent with
recently released data from the US
Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)
which tracked spending from two years ago in the 2015-2016 National
Postsecondary Student Aid Study. The survey found that undergraduate
students spent $555 in the 2015-2016 academic year on required course
materials, including print-only textbooks, digital textbooks, and other
required materials.

Publishers have played an important role in reducing student spending.
Today, more colleges participate in publishers' innovative Inclusive
Access programs and more students take advantage of options to rent
rather than buy both print and digital textbooks. Publishers continue to
produce a variety of content, including digital materials and platforms
that incorporate Open Educational Resources (OER). Some additional
reasons are:

  • Competitive retail markets reduces costs:
    Students shop around for the best prices. Student Monitor found in its
    survey of students in spring 2018 that 39% of students "purchased a
    print textbook significantly cheaper than list price." Student Watch
    found that almost half (49%) of students purchased course materials
    from more than one vendor, and a quarter rented from multiple sources.
    They also found that students who used a price comparison tool
    available at their college campus bookstore spent on average $46 less
    than those who did not.
  • Inclusive Access saves students up to 80%:
    Students at more than 500 campuses now participate in an Inclusive
    Access program, which includes the cost of course materials in
    tuition. The discounts are significant, with one university citing discounts
    of 50 – 80%
    for participating students. The program is popular
    among students, with 91% of students interested in having less
    expensive course materials that were included in the cost of tuition,
    according to Student Watch.
  • Students have more options: Course
    materials are available in a variety of formats and sources. Students
    can purchase new or used print textbooks; rent new or used print
    textbooks; rent or purchase digital materials; and purchase
    subscriptions. Other options include integrated OER and black and
    white print copies of materials. Student Watch found that typically
    40% – 45% of students rent one or more of their course materials and
    55% of students have used some type of digital course content.

About the Reports

Data from the Student Monitor survey was collected from 1,020 full-time,
four-year undergraduates enrolled at 100 representative campuses
nationally using one-on-one intercepts with a margin of error of +/-

Data from the Student Watch survey was collected by OnCampus Research®,
the research arm of the National Association of College Stores. More
than 34,000 responses were collected across 63 higher education
institutions in 29 U.S. states and three Canadian provinces for the
two-wave study. The margin of error is <1.0 at the 95% confidence level.

About AAP

The Association of American Publishers (AAP) represents the leading
book, journal, and education publishers in the United States on matters
of law and policy, advocating for outcomes that incentivize the
publication of creative expression, professional content, and learning
solutions. As essential participants in local markets and the global
economy, our members invest in and inspire the exchange of ideas,
transforming the world we live in one word at a time. Find us online at or
on twitter at @AmericanPublish.

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