THE BLOG
09/02/2014 02:10 pm ET | Updated Oct 28, 2014

4 Back-to-School Myths About College Textbooks

As students and families begin the school year, let's take a second to dispel some myths about college textbooks.

Before we debunk some myths around college textbooks, there's one definition you'll need to know: Open-source textbooks (open textbooks) are faculty-written, peer-reviewed textbooks just like traditional textbooks, except that they're published under an open license and released online -- meaning they're free to access online, free to download, and hard copies cost only $10 to $40, or the cost of printing. See my earlier post for more info on open textbooks.

Myth #1: New editions are necessary

An argument we hear all the time is that publishers have to release new editions in order to get the most up-to-date information out to students and professors.

Here's the reality:

First, let's concede the fact that some subjects do need to be updated with new information quite often. Science, politics, and especially topics like medicine rely on cutting-edge information. However, subjects like calculus -- which at its core hasn't changed in 400 years -- definitely don't need a new edition published every three.

Second, open textbooks offer a far better alternative than the traditional system. With open textbooks, a professor or researcher can actually update the content of a textbook, provide that cutting-edge information to students immediately, and do it without printing thousands of new editions at an outrageous $200 price tag.

Myth #2: Higher cost means better quality

All too often, we associate how much something costs with how quality of a product it is. In some cases, this statement holds true. In the world of college textbooks, however, this is myth needs busting.

Publishers will tell you that the 812% increase in textbooks prices over the past decade is so they can hire premium editorial boards and deliver you a "better" textbook.

Here's the reality:

With open textbooks, instead of a publishing company controlling any and all access to the text, the draft can be shared freely between professors. Imagine a book that has input from every professor, every expert in the field that can weigh in and offer critiques. Open textbooks have the potential to elicit feedback from an entire worldwide network of experts - and therefore have the potential to create textbooks of extremely high quality, all without bankrupting students.

Myth #3: Researching prices isn't worth the time

As textbooks move more and more into the digital market, it can be overwhelming - and quite frankly, time consuming - to track down cheaper alternatives to that shiny, new $200 textbook. There are hundreds of book swaps, marketplaces, vendors, and textbook retailers online, and they don't always have the best reputation. It's easy to fall into thinking that the whole process is too complicated and not worth the effort.

Here's the reality:

Even just doing a 30-second search on chegg.com or amazon.com can save you a bundle on textbook prices. You can also find older or international editions, compare e-book and rental prices, and anywhere from 10-70% compared to the cost of a new edition. That's hundreds of dollars every semester - and that definitely seems worth the effort.

Myth #4: There's nothing you can do about high prices

It's easy today to be cynical about change, about progress, to accept the status quo. With textbook prices, our inclination can often be to shake our heads and just make the individual choice not to buy them.

Here's the reality:

There's a ton going on in the world of textbooks right now. The main textbook publishers, however, are working to stymie change rather than catalyze it.

The good news? We can press forward without them. Here are a few things you can do right now to fight back against high textbook prices:

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1. Ask your professor to consider switching to an open textbook (see what's available at open.umn.edu).
2. Keep the social media buzz going with #textbookbroke.
3. Tell your legislators to check out our Affordable Textbooks Policy Guide!

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Stay tuned for Part 2!