Should students buy their own books?

Education | Brighten Youth Edu Centre 14 Jul 2020

A recent report by Student Watch shows that US students had spent, on average, US$579 (HK$4,487) on required course materials during the 2016/17 academic year - US$23 less than the previous year, and US$122 less than the 2007/08 academic year.

Of those who acquired their content through legal channels, 74 percent bought new books, 70 percent bought second-hand, and 23 percent chose digital content (some choosing a mix of options).

However, high prices mean that fewer students are buying textbooks than ever before. In the United States, textbook prices have increased by 73 percent since 2006. Compared to "normal" book prices, textbooks are so expensive because students often do not have a choice over which books they buy, and five major academic publishers control over 80 percent of the market. An increasing number of students are using financial aid to buy books.

Most requirements depend on their course. Law and medical books are often rereleased every couple of years. Anything else is obsolete.

Both courses rely heavily on such materials. However, with annual bills of thousands of dollars, collecting such volumes in not accessible. Second-hand copies are only fractionally cheaper. Most college towns have used bookstores, and Amazon can get used copies in reasonable condition to readers for a penny, plus postage. More obscure material can usually be sourced through Abe.

For many, this is still excessive. Anyone who has needed to relocate between countries knows that books can be prohibitively expensive to ship. Even key textbooks have become a luxury.

Libraries stock dozens of copies of core texts and, particularly in light of the recent Covid-19 crisis, ensure digital access.Professors compile increasing comprehensive reading lists, meaning that students need only download relevant material from libraries.

While some may expect such a service from institutions that charge ever-higher tuition fees, others argue that this spoon-feeding, particularly for older or graduate students, inhibits their ability to develop key research skills. If you decided you do want to buy (or are forced to), you can save money in a number of ways, including book swap sites.

Currently, Book Mooch ( and Book Crossing ( remain the most popular. But exercise prudence, because an uninhibited romp through the bookstore will quickly break the bank - even if your shelves look lovely.

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