State rep. challenges rising cost of textbooks

By Jennifer Graham

For most students, spending hundreds of dollars on textbooks is not uncommon. But while students are digging deep into their pockets this semester, some outsiders are trying to lower textbook costs for them.

State Rep. Rick Nelson, D-Middlesboro, has filed a bill that proposes a study on textbook prices in Kentucky.

“I believe students are, on average, spending over $500 a semester on textbooks,” Nelson said. “We hope to find out why they are spending that much through the study.”

By midyear, the study would show why books are priced so high, Nelson said. After that, Nelson hopes to see the Web used for assigned readings.

“My goal is to make everything online — no physical textbooks. Students would just be required to purchase a passcode to access the information,” Nelson said.

He would also like for professors to tell students when a book will be discontinued for the course, so they have a fair warning.

“We know that making everything online won’t happen for a while, so we are focusing on lowering costs for students,” Nelson said.

The private sector is also trying to aid in lowering the amount of money students spend on textbooks., a free price-comparison Web site, allows buyers to enter the ISBN, author or name of the textbook they are looking for and then searches various online bookstores for the cheapest price on that book.

“The difference in price between online and campus bookstores is night and day,” said Jeff Sherwood,’s CEO. “We find savings of 40 to 60 percent pretty much every time.”

“There are hundreds of online venders, so it’s a buyer’s market,” he said.

The online textbook vendors compiled on include, and

Students at UK can also take advantage of UK BookExchange (, which serves 11 different schools and allows students to post their used books online for the price they want from them.

While online purchasing of textbooks may be cheaper than buying in campus bookstores, some believe it is not the best way to go.

“I believe the biggest concern with buying online is just buyers beware,” said Carol Behr, the general manager of Kennedy Bookstore. “There may be hidden shipping costs, and there may be problems with timeliness, especially if dealing buyer-to-buyer. Also, you are usually stuck with what you buy.”

Campus bookstores usually price a book by the publisher’s current price. However, depending on how old the book is and whether it is likely to be used again, the prices may be altered.

“When bookstores have books left over, they have to decide whether to jump them up to the current retail price or leave them a little lower,” Behr said. “When we know books will not be used anymore, we keep them lower. Used books are about 25 percent less than current retail price.”

The retail prices for textbooks, however, tend to increase each year, which Sherwood attributes to the economics of supply and demand.

“The textbook industry is a gigantic market with a captive audience required to purchase that edition of that book,” Sherwood said. “Companies raise prices because they can.”

Despite the continued demand for textbooks, Nelson said there should be a more cost-effective way for students to buy their books that doesn’t involve companies raising prices and professors requiring new editions.

“In mathematics, two plus two is four,” said Nelson. “It will be four next year too, so why are new books required so frequently?”