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Student Spending on Textbooks Declines to $579 or Less during 2016-2017 Academic Year

Spending on course materials has declined by around 15% over the past decade

Washington, DC; August 24, 2017 – Research from 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 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 ten 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

“Over 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.

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 +/- 2.4%.

Data from the Student Watch survey was collected by OnCampus Research®, the research arm of the National Association of College Stores. More than 44,000 responses were collected across 90 Two-and Four-year institutions in 33 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 nearly four hundred member organizations including major commercial, digital learning, education and professional publishers alongside independents, non-profits, university presses and scholarly societies. We represent the publishing industry’s priorities including copyright and related intellectual property rights, piracy and enforcement strategies, digital growth and related business models, funding for education and libraries, fair tax and trade policies, and freedom of expression and literacy debates.

Find us online at or on twitter at @AmericanPublish.