The Education Data Initiative—an organization of researchers dedicated to collecting data and statistics about the US education system—stated that the typical college student spends an average of $105.37 per textbook. The undergraduates spend up to $600 per year on class materials. If you’re a postsecondary student, you could expect to spend twice that amount. The Education Data Initiative also has some other eye-opening statistics on the cost of student’s textbooks:
- Between 1977 and 2015, the cost of textbooks increased 1,041%
- Textbook prices are rising roughly 3 times the rate of inflation
- 25% of students reported they worked extra hours to pay for their books and materials
- 66% of college students skipped buying or renting course materials because they were too expensive
- 11% skipped meals in order to afford books and course materials
- 90% of professors say textbooks and course materials cost their students too much
Student spending on textbooks and course materials has declined as much as 48% over the last ten years. While some students may take advantage of scholarships or other financial aid programs to help cover the cost of books, others turn to digital publishing, such as eBooks or open-source websites, to help mitigate the expense. Inside Higher Education performed a survey of 2,400 undergraduate students in April of 2023. This research organization provides sources of data, analyses, and information on higher education in the United States. Of those surveyed, 59% claimed to use free sources. Open-source libraries like Open Library and Project Gutenberg offer students free access to millions of digital book titles, including textbooks. However, around 11% of the students surveyed admitted to using digitally pirated sources.
The current global market for digital publishing of textbooks represents $15.74 billion in revenue for 2023 and the market is expected to increase by 17% to $29.56 billion by 2027. With such a large profit margin, publishers could face a hefty loss in revenue if more students turn to pirating their titles.
In response to the risk of more students turning to piracy, four of the top ten major textbook publishers have taken legal action. Pearson, McGraw Hill, Cenage, and MacMillan Learning are joining together to bring a lawsuit against one of the most prolific publishers of pirated titles—Library Genesis—for copywrite infringement. The lawsuit claims that over 20,000 titles have been illegally uploaded by the “shadow library.” LibGen is one of the most popular sources for college students to find free versions of textbooks, journals, and articles with over six million titles in their index. The representative for the publishers in the lawsuit, Matt Oppenheim stated, “LibGen’s massive infringement completely undermines the incentive for creation and the rights of authors, who earn no royalties for the millions of books LibGen illegally distributes,” and called the LibGen website a “thieves’ den of stolen books.”
While the official lawsuit, Cenage Learning Inc v Library Genesis, makes a solid case against LibGen, the suit also acknowledges that shutting down the site will present with some tough challenges. Pirate sites are notorious for reappearing after a legal battle has shut them down. They purchase new domains and use proxies and mirrors to curtail legal tracking. The creators go through extensive efforts to hide their identities and IP addresses to avoid detection, making legal action evasive. Other pirate host sites have been successfully sued in the past, and LibGen has also faced previous legal troubles. Sued by publisher Elsevier in 2017, a judge ruled in favor of the publishing company, awarding a $15 million payout and demanding that LibGen turn over their domain. However, representatives from the pirate site never appeared in court, and LibGen opened a new domain and is still operational.
The cost of higher education is continuing to rise, and students are in growing need to cut costs where they can. Illegal sources for book titles are not condoned, and students have other means available to help ease the cost of textbooks. Scholarship programs, financial aid, and grants are some of the resources students can use for help. However, as long as the need exists, pirate sites will continue to pop up and fill the gap between students and publisher prices.