Challenging the Textbook Industry

Textbooks. Whether you buy them, rent them, or somehow manage to mooch them off your close friends, you are expected to have at least four or five of them every semester. Textbooks are a billion dollar industry in America. Furthermore, it is an industry that is fairly lacking when it comes to economic competition.  In the textbook industry there are five major players: Pearson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw-Hill education, Cengage and Wiley. This lack of competition enables these companies to charge substantially more than they could otherwise.

Jonathan Band is a copyright and policy lawyer, an adjunct professor for the Georgetown University Law Center and an online author for the Disruptive Competition Project. Band writes that “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the price of textbooks has risen more than 800% over the past 30 years….The average college student spends more than $900 a year on textbooks. Not surprisingly, textbook publishers have been highly profitable. ”

While these high profits are good for textbook companies, they mean something completely different for Ramen-eating college students. Band asserts that the digital revolution has the ability to challenge the giants in this market by facilitating the textbook rentals,  establishing a new market for digital textbooks, and giving new competitors an opportunity to reach students in ways that they previously didn’t.

Band briefly mentioned that companies like Pearson are expanding their education services to offer more online products to compensate for these changes. However he did not explicitly discuss the extent to which companies like McGraw Hill and Pearson now offer e book opportunities, which makes his argument questionable that the dominant hold these companies have can truly be shaken.

I personally believe that the dominance that these companies have over the textbook industry will not truly be questioned until major universities choose not to enter into contractual agreements with them, regardless of the wealth of online information.


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