Overpriced text books!

I just got confirmation of my textbook selection for my spring term course.

LIST PRICE: $246.65 😱 🤯


Registration is coming up soon. I’ll be sure to inform the students that old editions, used books, any alternative is fine. I’ve hung on to a few copies of past editions I’ll loan to students who are desperate.


  1. davebot says

    Are the pages made of gold leaf? Is it bound in the skin of a rare, endangered animal? I understand the possible lack of an economy of scale for textbooks thing, but still…

  2. says

    Don’t forget to tell your students to be sure to get a legal copy of the book!

    In particular, they should not go to a scurrilous site of piracy called Libgen, search on “concepts of genetics 12th edition”, and download the 2019 12th edition there. That would be wrong, as Pearson might miss out on money. And there would be no worse thing that could happen.

  3. moarscienceplz says

    It’s all those chapters on Critical Race Theory that really jack up the price.

  4. hemidactylus says

    Isn’t student debt the fault of the students since if they were favored by God for not being moral reprobates textbooks would fall from the sky like manna? It couldn’t be the fault of exploitive publishers because that’s just how capitalism works.

  5. snarkrates says

    Thank you, Ronald Reagan. I remember the precise semester when this happened. Reagan changed the way book inventory is taxed, which decreased the incentive to mass produce the books and hold them in warehouses. Reagan was the beginning of the end of this country.

  6. weylguy says

    Wow. I thought my physics, math and chemistry books in the late 1960s were too expensive at around $12 apiece (they even included trig and log tables back then!) The price increases started going into effect when our sons attended college in the 1990s, and my wife and I gasped in horror at $100 calculus texts. But Republicans must be happy that higher education is becoming too expensive for ordinary kids, rendering them more ignorant and more susceptible to the siren call of conservative dogma.

  7. laurencocilova says

    I remember several of my professors were insistent on the current edition even if the old version was affordable and the new was hundreds of dollars… Because one page on one chapter had changed. So instead of copying that page for us, they made us all spend hundreds of dollars on new books. That we could then sell back to the bookstore for ten dollars, if we were lucky.

    The whole thing just stinks of such a scam.

  8. david says

    Online Open Genetics by Nickle and Barrette-Ng is a reasonable college-level genetics book, and it’s free online.

  9. kome says

    Damn. I hope you do what I do with my students on the first day of class and let them know about websites like LibGen so they can avoid being tempted to pirate textbooks. I even walk them through exactly how a piracy website like LibGen operates so that should they haplessly and accidentally end up there one day, they know what things to avoid doing so as to avoid pirating their classes’ reading materials.

  10. says

    Not to sing a one note song, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Open Educational Resources.

    OER for everyone. And every course. If you don’t have them, then start building them. The Pearsons of this world have been taking advantage of students for far too long. They are now dinosaurs. Let’s watch them go extinct.

    I am now working on the second edition of my Semiconductor Devices OER text. And loving it.

  11. Walter Solomon says

    While this is obviously too expensive to expect most studebts on a budget to be able to afford, in relative terms it’s not so expensive when you consider there are picture books, like the one about porn actress Vanessa del Rio, that cost thousands of dollars.

    I would say a genetics book is much more valuable given the information it contains than a pornstar’s photomemoir.

  12. petesh says

    As one who has worked on Biology (and other) textbooks on and off for decades, first at a typesetter then as a freelance prufreeder … I note that this at least used to be a huge business, with a major textbook grossing as much as a hit record or moderately successful movie, and the technical art and printing staff took pride in their work and were paid for it. Now a lot of that work is done in India and other low-wage English-speaking centers and wages are going down; I still do a little but have declined some frankly insulting per-page offers from the outside services the publishers now hire to manage production. But I don’t think the cover price has declined. :-) And publishers are struggling to figure out how to monetize electronic versions. TBF, the editors are doing good work trying to remove racist, sexist and other stereotypes … but the whole system needs radical change. One might say, revolution.

  13. says


    So… several of your professors were/are unmitigated a**holes? To be clear, I don’t blame anyone for not copying copyrighted material. I believe that people who create content should be paid for their work, but if it truly is a matter of just a few pages, it’s easy enough to present that material during a lecture, making sure that you point out “This is not in the text if you are using any edition prior to the Xth edition”. Anything less signifies either a lack of empathy or too much laziness on the part of the prof.

    And not to sound like an a**hole myself, but I would bet on laziness. When I wrote my first textbook through a traditional publisher some 30 years ago, I was stunned by the extras they wanted me to create. I drew the line at a “test bank”. For the uninitiated, that’s a bunch of questions/problems (with worked out answers, of course) for each chapter that the instructor can then use to create tests. I told my editor, “If an instructor is too lazy to even create their own tests, they shouldn’t be teaching the course”. They were OK with that, but those extras were the things that sales people used to push their titles.

    Anyway, the catalog of OER titles is growing by the day. Some of these titles are absolutely top notch and are making deep inroads into certain segments (and no doubt pissing off a lot of publishers). Instructors are learning that “you get what you pay for” does not necessarily apply to college texts, and that, they too can create these materials.

  14. says

    When I was an undergrad there were some students who were angered by book prices and set up a book sale system. Since the class sizes didn’t change much, they reasoned that if this year 20 people needed such and such a book they could buy it from the class that just finished it. So you could reserve some other person’s copy and there was a book-swap at the end of the semester: lug in a box of books leave with a box of books. There were copies of some textbooks that had been through the cycle a half dozen times. The prices were $5, $10, or $15 scaled to the original cost of the book.

    Aaaand that is why the professors started requiring the latest editions – especially the professors who assigned their own books. The students retaliated with reading circles. Then the professors wanted everyone to bring their copy to the first lecture. Lame!

  15. evodevo says

    Eeeeek! That was the text I used when I taught my Independent Study genetics course OMG…Not that many years ago, either…the price was nowhere near that. How could anyone taking, say, 15 hours afford textbooks? That’s insane…

  16. says

    @#5, snarkrates:

    Thank you, Ronald Reagan. I remember the precise semester when this happened. Reagan changed the way book inventory is taxed, which decreased the incentive to mass produce the books and hold them in warehouses. Reagan was the beginning of the end of this country.

    I keep seeing people say this, and while it’s true, it is absolutely also true that there have, three times since then, been Democratic Presidents with majorities in Congress, and all three times they refused to reverse all those Reagan (and Bush, and Trump) policies. We got into this mess because of Reagan being evil, but we stayed in this mess because of Clinton and Obama and Biden being big fans of Reagan, and we’re never going to get out of this mess because too many people like you let Clinton and Obama and Biden blame the Republicans and stop at that.

  17. brightmoon says

    I hate this . I’m the type of nerd that will buy science textbooks just to read because I like learning . Been out of school for 40 years so I like keeping up with my old biology major

  18. jrkrideau says

    @ 19 brightmoon

    I wanted a textbook on Intro Baysian statistics and got my local bookstore to order it. It came in at a bit over 2kg and CAN$120.

    I got a worried call from the bookstore checking to see if I really wanted it.

    The really annoying thing is that I suspect that the author provided the publisher with pretty close to camera-ready text, tables and plots.

  19. chrislawson says

    I agree with jimf. Open textbooks are the way to go, ideally funded by a pooled multinational university trust.

  20. hemidactylus says

    I still have many of my biology texts from the late 90s. I didn’t sell them back for a couple bucks. Once in a while I buy an overpriced textbook level ebook on a topic I find interesting. My days of adding to my print book hoarding problem have passed.

    @22- chrislawson
    I hoard available research article pdfs on my iPad now. I used to struggle on my iPhone. I have a crap-ton of COVID immunology related stuff that is probably mostly obsolete by now.

  21. Artor says

    Wouldn’t it be a shame if someone were to post a PDF of the whole book? Some publisher would loose a fraction of a percent of their obscene profit margin. Wont someone think of the corporations?!?

  22. StevoR says

    @ ^ Artor : Don’t worry plenty of people will think of the Corporations especially those in charge of them and paid to lobby for them – and, oh, yeah, Trump’s treason SCOTUS “Justices”.

    As for the price of that textbook. That. Is. Staggering.

  23. lochaber says

    Granted, it’s gotten worse, but this isn’t exactly a new problem. I remember having to buy $100-$200 dollar textbooks in the 90s during my first attempt at school. And, of course, you’d be lucky if you could get ~$30 for them on book buy-back at the end of the semester. I also remember there being a thing of people roaming dorms during finals week, and looking for dorm lounges and such where there were late night study groups taking a break, and grabbing unattended textbooks (and sometimes bags?), and then selling them off at the bookstore.

    I also remember feeling particularly clever when taking a half-semester hydrogeology(?) class, that had a ~$300 price tag (and it was a one-off course by a visiting/guest professor, so no used copies in the bookstore), and I managed to get the copy in the reserve library holdings, and spend the ~2 hour time period and ~$30 in copy card money, and photocopy all of the assigned reading…

    And then when I made another (eventually successful…) attempt at school in the late aughts, yeah, a lot of texts were in the ~$200-300 range, and a lot of them came with a CD or some “online key” that wasn’t eligible for resale (I think this also overlapped with a lot of the Metallica/Napster/Piracy Digital Millennium Copyright Act bullshit? might be wrong/confused….), so you couldn’t even get used copies for stuff taught the previous semester.

    And then there is the thing where some of them come with “study questions” in the back, and while none of the text changes (I remember some of my more diligent and caring professors listing different questions for different editions/years in the homework assignments), sometimes students would be required to get the newest edition due to those “homework problems” or whatever in the back being switched up. I have serious doubts that anything significant about Introductory Calculus has changed in the last 30, 50, or even 100 years, to warrant so, so, SO many fucking new editions that absolutely must be used right damned now.

    Capitalism is a fucking cancer, and I don’t think we are going to survive it and maintain any sort of technological society. Hell, we’ll be lucky if any humans survive it, period…

    It’s so much fucking bullshit. Side note, that was another nice bonus for taking something like Ancient Greek Drama or something, because that stuff was all out of copyright, so most of the books on the reading list were often just a couple dollars, and rarely over $10, even for new.

  24. mcfrank0 says

    @snarkrates: the gouging by publishers was already fully underway in the 70’s. I had many texts for required engineering courses that cost $75 and more in 1975.

    I have to wonder why textbooks never became fully digital. Cost would be only one factor. Those suckers are heavy and even though my trunk full of textbooks went into storage over the summer, the final move off campus was most difficult. It would be a joy to have all the reference books you bought readily available and, even more important, easily located. And if publishers say they provide texts solely in a physical format due to student preferences, they never asked a student for their input.

    I blame the important absent minded professor market. If all their books were digital, how could they signal their erudition and unique personalities without piles of books and papers in gravity defining stacks everywhere?

  25. macallan says

    Damn. When I went to university in .de in the late 1990s nobody paid money for textbooks – we got them from the library, and until moving to the US, I thought that’s one of a university library’s primary functions.

  26. Larry says

    I was paying $60 for my EE books in 1974-1977 time frame. According to the google, that’s equivalent to $312.98 in today’s money. Don’t be telling me us boomers had it so much easier back in the day. It is interesting to note that book dealers have been ripping off students essentially forever.

  27. René says


    Well, they didn’t set its price at $249.98, so I suppose they priced it at its production cost plus a reasonable ten-percent profit. Seems totally legit.

  28. skeptuckian says

    That is over 600 packets of chicken-flavored ramen noodles. Feed the brain or feed the stomach?

  29. says

    @Larry, 29
    You paid $60 for EE books in the mid 70s?? I have my introductory circuit analysis text that I purchased in 1976. It still has the sticker on it. I paid $10.35. Inflation calculator says that’s $54 today. Not cheap, but when I last used a title from Pearson in the mid 20-teens (prior to releasing my own OER circuit analysis texts), they wanted around $200. The lab manual alone was nearly $100.

    To be fair though, all the blame cannot be pushed onto the publishers. A chunk of it belongs to the national textbook resellers. As many have noted, once upon a time, students used to sell their books to each other. This was self-limiting because there was no practical way for students at one school to sell/buy with students at another school. Then, some enterprising twit got the idea that he could hoover up all of the used books and resell them to college bookstores. Now, if professor X decided to use a different book, it wouldn’t matter because some other prof at some other school would be using it. Of course, the resellers had to sell the books at less than the wholesale price of new books (typ. 60% of list). This drove down what the students could get for their old books. More importantly, it flooded the market. The publishers and authors make zero on resales, so the the publishers fought back by speeding up the revision time table. This has the effect of removing many used books from circulation because many profs want everyone to be working out of the same text.

    Of course, the material in intro texts doesn’t change much, so the revisions are mostly cosmetic. But there’s added cost to produce the revisions, so that drives up the price. In one instance, I started teaching a particular course using a 6th edition in the mid 90s. Within 20 years, it was at the 12th edition. They were updating every two to three years. Some of the revisions included swapping the order of chapters, splitting chapters, and adding a few end-of-chapter problems (I assume to screw up the numbering because there were plenty of problems to begin with). This drove me crazy because every few years I had to redo all of the assignments that I had created.

    Eventually, I said screw it, and wrote a pair of introductory circuit analysis texts (one for DC and one for AC) and released them as OER. Then Covid hit and we went on-line, so I created a bunch of lecture videos to support the texts. Also OER. The feedback I have received has been universally positive. There are A LOT of professors out there that are plenty pissed at the textbook publishers.