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Student Spending on Textbooks Falls to $579 During 2016-2017 Academic Year

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Research from U.S.-based Student Monitor® and the National Association of College Stores (NACS) found that student spending on textbooks and course materials declined for the second year in a row. The Student Watch survey from NACS reported a $23 decline in spending from $602 in the 2015-2016 academic year to $579 in 2016-2017. Student Monitor reported a $64 decline from $607 in 2015-2016 academic year to $543 in 2016-2017. Spending on course materials has declined by around $100 over the past 10 years, around 15%, when the average spend was between $672 and $701.

The transition to less expensive digital materials, increasing use of rental options for both print and digital materials, and a competitive retail market are among the factors that have led to the spending decline. Both studies found the average price per unit (new, used, print, digital, or rented) was $66 during the 2016 – 2017 academic year. The cost of new print textbooks declined by around 13% from $91 in the 2015 – 2016 academic year to $80 in the 2016-2017 academic year, according to Student Monitor.

Specific reasons for the spending decline include:
  • Shift to digital materials reduces costs: With 52% of students using digital course materials, more students than ever were saving (Student Watch); digital materials typically cost between 15% -70% less than new, print textbooks
  • Inclusive Access programs: These substantial discounts on digital course materials – sometimes up to 70% off the price of a traditional, new print textbook – are available in a growing number of universities
  • More students are renting: A record high of 33% of students rented one or more textbooks they would have otherwise purchased. Renting costs about $30 per unit less than buying, and the number of rentals for course materials increased by 6% (Student Monitor)
  • Students are savvy shoppers: Student Monitor found that 82% of students compared prices, and Student Watch found that students who used a price comparison tool available at their college campus bookstore spent less than those who did not
"During the past few years, learning companies have championed multiple solutions, which are effectively reducing the cost of course materials, including the shift to digital and Inclusive Access programs. This research proves that students are taking advantage of these innovations and are saving money in the process," said David Anderson, executive director of Higher Education at the Association of American Publishers.

Student spending on course materials also varies by major and seniority. Student Watch reported that upperclassman at four-year universities generally spend less on their course materials. Also, students who major in mathematics and computer science spent about $100 less than average.

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