All the above reasons stated are great points as to why text books are so expensive. We need to remember that the people writing and contributing to these text books are either researchers or teachers and most likely are not making anything off of these books, although I do recall a Professor requiring a new version of a text simply because the new edition had a contribution of hers included that the previous edition did not have in it.
All of the points are valid, but I think a better question might be, "Why do professors change text books so frequently?" Several times in my undergraduate work I would have to buy a new textbook because oddly enough the bookstore couldn’t get anymore used ones. Even more odd is the fact that the bookstore would not buy them back because the professor was switching texts. Really? Now I presume that the professor chose the text book in the first place because it was full of relevant academic subject matter. Why switch then? Was there some new and groundbreaking discovery that had to be included for the benefit of all students? Was the information in the 2006 trigonometry text out date by 2009?
The previous post make some good comments. Here are a few other reasons why text books cost so much.
Textbooks are for the most part academic books, which means that they will get very little circulation other than universities. So, they need to charge more, otherwise publishing houses would not make a profit and then, in turn, there will be a dearth of text books. Compare a textbook for Ancient History to a Dan Brown Novel - There is no comparison. The former make little money compared to the later.
Apart from this reason, textbook companies charge a lot, because they can.
Having worked with one textbook publisher, I have a few thoughts.
It takes a LOT of background work to produce a textbook. Many people are involved in the process: writers, field testers, editors, photographers, designers, production, printing, etc. It takes a lot of money to hire all those people.
The market for any one textbook is relatively small; only a select group of students are studying any one area at any one time.
And the life of a textbook is short. Knowledge is changing so fast that many textbooks are often on the verge of being outdated by the time they come into print. In the K-12 market, for example, the constant changes in standards force school districts to demand new materials in order to align themselves to state and/or nationwide requirements.
Here are some reasons:
- Professors demand textbooks that look fancy. Compare modern textbooks with ones from 25 years ago and the old ones look much less impressive. Fewer pictures, more text, etc. This pushes the prices up.
- There is low "price elasticity of demand" -- students have to buy the texts (for the most part) and so they will buy no matter what the price.
- The people who choose the textbooks (professors) are not the ones who have to pay the costs of the texts they choose. This increases their willingness to get expensive texts.
- The textbook companies have reduced the time between new editions of books. This is so there can be less of a used book market.
These are some of the major reasons.
When establishing a price for a textbook, the course is the same as for any other book published: cost for production, for shipping etc. The difference is made by the extra-cost imposed by the different distribution, which is more expensive than in a definite distribution system, which the net of large stores does have.
Because of the small numbers os copies ordered, the colleges cannot negociate the price of books. The college bookstores are not interested to make reducing offers to books they are selling,because they do not pay for them and they do not face competition, students buying the textbooks, no matter the price demanded.