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Price check

When I became a graduate student, I immediately started paying MUCH less for my textbooks. Everything was available in photocopy and on reserve. We were almost never expected to buy books for anything. Plus, we all knew how to use the library and use short-term loan quite competently. This was true in both the UK and Canada.

This also means that it's been the better part of ten years (!) since I last bought a full, normal load of textbooks. I don't know what was average, but I paid US$50-90 quite regularly per course back then. My current students are being asked to pay UKP 10 for two course readers. The one time I picked textbooks for a course in Canada, they came to about CA$45 for two books. (No idea if that was typical.) And so, since I'm picking out textbooks for next term, I started wondering:

For undergraduates in the U.S., what the general price per textbooks per course is these days? It'll vary from discipline to discipline and country to country, of course. There must be some sort of published study on this somewhere, at least for a number of different countries or disciplines.

For those who have ever been university students - what kinds of prices did you pay for textbooks, what disciplines, what country, and when?


( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 18th, 2006 12:41 pm (UTC)
UK, enormous sums. Affording textbooks was my biggest problem.
Oct. 18th, 2006 01:09 pm (UTC)
I currently pay about $100 per class on average; English classes tend to be less, science to be more, but comp sci classes are oddly the cheapest because the books don't get republished every year. The most I've spent over the last 2 years in a single class was $194 (economics, 2 books and a subscription to "The Economist", which is still making me miserable each week); the least, $6.74 (C Programming, I found the book on half.com for $2.75 plus shipping.)
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Oct. 18th, 2006 01:33 pm (UTC)
Most of P's books cost well over $100 each (sometimes even when they're used). I guess they figure that finance students will earn that back quickly once they hit the job market. Hope it's true...
Oct. 18th, 2006 02:04 pm (UTC)
I was surprised to see prices of £9.99 for Wordsworth's The Prelude and £16.99 for Edmund Burke's essay on the Sublime and the Beautiful that I bought in 1991 - that seems a lot now! I think books must have been relatively more expensive back then! My Collins dictionary cost £38 -£48 for the French-English one.
Also, I remember that some of the art students taking Astronomy as their subsidiary were paying £80 for the principal text book (well, one did, because she thought it was beautiful... I think everyone else just borrowed it from the library!)
Oct. 18th, 2006 02:11 pm (UTC)
Physics textbooks cost about $100 a pop. If you got to the campus store early you could get used ones for about $60 or $70, though; I tried to do that.

I think I usually spent about $300-$400 a semester on books.
Oct. 18th, 2006 02:13 pm (UTC)
As an undergraduate, I developed the believe that my professors (across a variety of fields, Classics, English, and Physics primarily) tried to limit the total cost of books to $100 or less per class. Often it might be considerably less--$60 or so--but, after a few semesters, the $100/class expectation was a feasible way of preparing my textbook budget.

I should also say that I was rarely, if ever, required to buy a "textbook," as I conceive of the term (a volume designed to touch comprehensively upon the subjects of a course, often designed for that type of course exclusively); I was more often asked to buy readers/course packets and individual books which were not comprehensive. It took several to cover all the planned topics for the semester.

I've heard that for bio or chem, the textbooks might be $75 or $100 a pop and thus bump up the overall costs.

The cost factor is a challenging way of selecting books--does one, for example, request that students buy the Riverside Chaucer, $75 new, in order to set them up with the most widely used reliable edition, or does one recommend a cheaper paperback of the Canterbury Tales alone? I think the importance of the specific edition used can vary for undergraduates compared to graduates, but I also have been forever grateful that the teacher of the Chaucer class I took in my sophomore year made us buy the Riverside; although I've since bought a couple extra editions of various works of Chaucer's, that volume has been in constant use throughout my studies.
Oct. 18th, 2006 02:16 pm (UTC)
Er, first sentence: "I developed the belief."

And, to address your other questions, I've been buying course books since 1993, all in the US, and the $100 has been a reliable maximum. The cost dropped a lot as my grad studies progressed because I often already owned copies of required books. (Then, of course, it shot through the roof as I began to prep for my orals.)
Oct. 18th, 2006 02:30 pm (UTC)
I imagine that our undergraduate experiences with this were relatively similar, owlfish. The only major "textbook"-like books I had to buy were the Norton Anthologies of English Lit in first year (6th ed, the 7th came out a year or two later) and the Riverside Chaucer and Shakespeare for courses of those titles. I think I bought Chaucer new and Shakespeare used. I remember course readers being staples of many history courses, so I don't think I purchased more than 5 other books for most of them. English courses were naturally more book heavy, I think I had to buy 10-12 for Doug Patey's Jane Austen seminar, plus at least a couple course readers of novels that were out of print.

There may have been a semester or two where I spent less than $100, but I would say over $100 happened as well. I learned to use the library more often as well, and during both tenures in Edinburgh, I purchased very few books, we were encouraged to use the library almost exclusively (certainly in postgrad), which had its own availability issues.

A friend currently in a literature postgrad program at UT Austin has observed that there is a major difference in emphasis on which volumes of texts are necessary. At Smith, you would have relatively inexpensive paperbacks available for most novels, but she's finding that most of her professors will only allow the critical editions to be used. Which at that level makes sense, I don't know if this is an issue in historiography or not.
Oct. 18th, 2006 02:35 pm (UTC)
I've been in school various times from undergrad 1992 - 1996 up to my MA in 1999 - 2001. Textbooks varied from $15 Cdn. paperbacks (plays or shorter books for history classes) up to $75 for the hardcover psych textbook. I think average for history books was probably about $25 - $40, and we might need 2 or 3 for any given class.
Oct. 18th, 2006 02:52 pm (UTC)
UK, Chemical Engineering 1994 - 1998. About £20 - £40 per textbook... say £120 a year? It could have been more, but there was quite an impressive second-hand trade plus the library was stocked with the really expensive texts (a la Coulson and Richardson and Perrry's Handbook).
Oct. 18th, 2006 02:59 pm (UTC)
Cheapest -- free. Most expensive £50 or £60. Typically 15-25.

York, Compsci...
Oct. 18th, 2006 03:53 pm (UTC)
W.r.t. the US, in history.

Speaking from the professor's pov here, cliosfolly is correct for me at least: I try hard to keep the total price of books required to be purchased for a single class at about $100 (not counting sales tax). Occasionally it is less, occasionally a bit more. That $100 price tag is for new books, by the way -- students who buy used books when possible will save a bit.

That level of spending expectation is slightly more than what I paid as an undergraduate around 1990 (again in the US), when I budgeted about $300 for books for 4 classes. I attended a private college, and am now teaching at a public university.

Textbooks, as in history survey texts etc., vary quite a lot in price, from the mid $30s to the $70s, depending on publisher, topic, etc. I usually require a textbook plus some additional books (literary works, monographs, and/or a source reader being the most likely).
Oct. 18th, 2006 03:57 pm (UTC)
My students (English) pay average $50 - 100 CDN per course; eg the anthology for next term's 20th century lit course is $45.95 (plus bookstore markup) then I found a cheap edition of Mrs Dalloway for 3.99! and then Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, 15. On the other hand, one composition course this term I used a custom text (built online) which was only 19.95 for students, and I'm hoping to use another like it for my intro to Lit. The average 1st year lit anothology is around 75.00. Photocopied course packs are the cheapest, but labour intensive.
Oct. 18th, 2006 05:34 pm (UTC)
UK archaeology
We were a small class of 21, what we couldn't borrow from local university libraries we would buy one or two mutually exclusive titles each, second hand (either in town or online), and then trade them amongst ourselves whenever an essay came up as we were all in the same Halls. Also I recall helping myself to photocopying publications at various places when I did practical experience. Convinient and very, very cheap. So I couldn't tell you the actual values.

However, all I'm left with now afterwards is a shelf-full of books on Anglo-Saxon Death (because I went wild in Oxbow Books once) and two essential cover-all texts, so I guess people wanting to carry on in their chosen field would probably not be wanting to do the same!
Oct. 18th, 2006 05:52 pm (UTC)
Let's see: being in the humanities, I could usually get books for reasonable prices and didn't have the bio/chem/med school whammy of prices. That said, I did pay about CA$200 per term or grad school, especially for English classes with long reading lists or expensive readers. Xeroxed copy packets were always less expensive, but harder to keep track of.

(Don't ask me about Smith prices--I cannot remember!)
Oct. 18th, 2006 05:54 pm (UTC)
I'm an undergraduate scientist, and we tend to get away with only a few books since the core material is in the lecture handouts and proper research involves reading journals. The few books I do own are huge and expensive, £40+.
Oct. 18th, 2006 10:45 pm (UTC)
I majored in English. Never bought any textbooks unless I absolutely had to because we had them at home. Hate, hate, HATE the textbook racket. I also think it's ridiculous to ask students at a school like this to buy anything other than the Norton Anthology of English Literature.

My predecessor had the Longman Anthology of World Lit down for the class I'm teaching: eighty bucks per three volume set, which would mean $160 over two semesters. For the continuation, I put down dover thrift and Penguin paperbacks which came to a little over $40. I would put down a course pack if I could. I'm going to see what else they let me do. at their last meeting they pointed out that our book allowance was less than what the average student spends on text books (I'm embarrassed to admit that I forget the last figure. Either way, it's way too much money and too many editions for textbooks.
Oct. 18th, 2006 10:48 pm (UTC)
i should add that if I'd been on the ball I'd have spent WAY more on books for the diss. i anticipate spending a good $600 in the next year or so on things i now want to own.
Oct. 18th, 2006 11:04 pm (UTC)
When I started as an undergrad (US), my textbooks (new) for my History survey came to about $65 for a textbook and a reader -- we were budgeted (finaincial aid-wise) at about $250-$300 for textbooks for the semester. By the time I graduated in 1987, I think the allotment was $400. Minimum wage then was $3.75 per hour.

My textbook and reader (i.e., the ones I assign) are about $85 new, I think -- minimum wage is $7.10 an hour now?

That said, it's a racket, and I try to keep the prices down whenever I can. But I think for an upper division class, it's not unreasonable to expect that students will spend $150-$175, if they buy one main text and a bunch of primary sources and maybe a monograph or article collection. I am thinking of using the Little & Rosenwein Debating the Middle Ages next year -- but I think it's around $60 for the paperback. And maybe the new TFX Noble collection, which is about $40 -- that's really not too expensive, if you look at the price of medieval survey texts.

THe nice thing is that so many of the primary sources we read and need to read come up again and again, so we only have to buy one copy of Gregory of Tours, one Roland, one Eusebius ...
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )