When you look across the spectrum of college and graduate schools there are so few things that are universally despised. We all have varied experiences with college life. Academics, social, sports, extra-curricular activity can be as diverse and wide as the campus/city/individual will allow. Costs vary and the burden differs but rich or poor, scholarship, financial aid or not the one thing we all agree on is why the hell textbooks cost so much money.
You've all heard the argument that the textbook is the first step in building your professional library. And we all roiled our eyes because we know the textbook is the way some of these professors continue to make cash. We've experienced what it was like to find out that the professor insisted on the current edition or what it was like to find out that reselling the book would only get you the smallest of return. I'm sure I'm not the only one that purchased a textbook for $100, returned it for $20 and then found the same store reselling it used for $65.
It's a racket. Publishers create gimmicks to apply pressure to students and influence their purchasing decision. Not only is there the annual revisions there is the bundling of software and other tools that make it appear as if the product is "essential" or necessary.
The price of college textbooks has exceeded the rise in cost of all goods and services. College textbook prices have risen faster than medical costs! Since 1978 college textbooks have increased 812%, while medical costs have risen 575%.
The market has adapted to this condition by creating new services. For example it is increasingly possible to rent textbooks. Bookrenters.com and CampusBookRentalss.com are two services that provide rental services.
There is also a movement to develop open educational resources, think Wikipedia for textbooks. Boundless.com has created a service called "textbook replacement." Boundless capitalizes on the amount of high quality academic content available on the internet. The content has been contributed by college professors and educational non-profits that believe in the open internet and open educational resources.
Boundless organizes the wealth of content into a consumable textbook like format compatible with tablets or e-readers. For example, N. Gregory Mankiw’s Principles of Economics has a list price of almost $300. It is one of the best-selling textbooks in college, no doubt driven by Mankiw's ranking as one of the most influential economists in the world. Much of his principles have been adapted into other content and that content is available on Boundless. As expected the big publishing companies, wishing to protect their cash cow have sued Boundless using the same intellectual property argument that the recording industry used when MP3 players and music downloads began to impact their distribution model and profits. And just like the recording industry while they sue the startup they are actively build a competing product.
Project Blue Sky is an online educational search engine that will integrate with open educational resources. Project Blue Sky is owned by Pearson, one of the publishing giants suing Boundless.com.