Go to Top

Cost of Digital Textbook Access from a Student’s Perspective

David Wiley had an eye-opening post earlier this week where he compared different types of digital content pricing from a student’s perspective. In his view:

Online, on demand access to one textbook (~$19/month) costs more than online, on demand access to every major movie, TV show, and song produced in the US in recent memory ($7.99 + $9.99 = $17.98/month). Really. One textbook costs more than the entire output of the film, television, and music industries combined.

Go on… read that previous paragraph again. The math is correct, but it’s not right. Not in any moral sense of the word “right,” anyway.

There’s more information in his post that’s worth reading. Here is one way to visualize this data to give perspective.


There are some worthwhile comments to David’s post pointing out that this is not a true apples-to-apples comparison – talking about scarcity economics, cost of production, total market available. All of these are valid points from the supply-side of the equation, focusing mostly on the textbook publishers.

What I like about David’s approach is that it takes the demand-side of the equation and focuses on how student’s perceive what they are purchasing. If you take the student’s view, it is hard to come to any conclusion other than the textbook industry is broken. If we’re going to attempt to “be fair” in discussions about textbook pricing, shouldn’t we start with considerations from the student’s perspective?

Update: added CC license and reference to D Wiley blog in footer of graphic

, , ,