Students Want More Value from Textbooks and at Lower Prices, says New Research from BISG

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Growing percentage of students react to high prices by opting out of new editions, renting or stealing

Students are rebelling against the rising costs of textbooks in a variety of ways. Some students are settling for older editions of assigned textbooks. In fact, less than 60% of surveyed students purchased current print editions – new or used.

The first installment in Volume Two of the Book Industry Study Group (BISG)’s ongoing Student Attitudes Toward Content in Higher Education survey shows that students are rebelling against the rising costs of textbooks in a variety of ways. Some students are settling for older editions of assigned textbooks. In fact, less than 60% of surveyed students purchased current print editions – new or used. The frequency of illicit behavior such as photocopying (measured for the first time in this survey) is less than expected. Still, it remains an issue with 4.1% of students saying they engage in these practices frequently and almost 25% saying they do this occasionally. Among the legal, low-cost alternatives students are exploring are textbook rentals, which 11% of respondents report using, a significant increase over the past year.

Student Attitudes Toward Content in Higher Education focuses on college student perceptions related to educational content and presentation media in the higher education marketplace. Volume Two is powered by Bowker Market Research and sponsored by Baker & Taylor, Cengage Learning, Chegg, CourseSmart, Follett Higher Education Group,, Kno, the National Association of College Stores (NACS), and Pearson.

“College students are reacting to high textbook prices by changing how they think about what’s acceptable and what isn’t,” said Angela Bole, BISG’s Deputy Executive Director. “When you pair this with the impact of rapid changes in technology, you have all the elements needed to create a confusing landscape. The motivation behind BISG’s ongoing student attitudes survey is to eliminate this confusion. The report harnesses hard data that accurately plots trends, identifying both threats to business as well as the inevitable opportunities that emerge in dynamic marketplaces.”

Among the opportunities Student Attitudes Toward Content in Higher Education reveals: integrated digital learning platforms are perceived by students to add significant value to course material. When a core textbook was part of an integrated learning system, respondents rated its value and overall satisfaction level an average of more than 14% higher than a textbook that was not part of such a system. Further, interactive whiteboards have now become the most common classroom technology, with over 38% of respondents reporting usage “to a large extent.”

The study also explores the use of devices such as smartphones and tablets. Though mobile devices are increasingly commonplace, they continue to be underutilized for academic content. For example, while more than 60% of respondents report owning a smartphone, learning and class management apps are not widely used. The pressure is on to leverage the use of these devices in the higher ed space. Nearly 15% of respondents have a tablet device now, with another 30+% reporting an interest in acquiring an Apple iPad. And, about 46% of students expressed interest in getting textbooks on their iPad.

“The results clearly show the college textbook market is undergoing exponential change in terms of student behavior,” said Kelly Gallagher, Bowker Vice President of Publishing Workflow Solutions. “And the environment of public discourse about the cost of higher ed adds fuel to this dynamism. This is a critical time for publishers to explore research and use it to identify the creative new business models that will power their businesses tomorrow, next year and into the next decade.”

Findings from Student Attitudes Toward Content in Higher Education come from a semi-annual online survey of college students, drawn from a nationally representative panel. To ensure the survey questions explored the appropriate trends and issues, they were developed in partnership with a variety of publishers and other companies working in the higher ed market place. In addition to the core question set, survey sponsors and other interested parties can submit proprietary questions to supplement the core fieldings. Those interested in submitting proprietary questions should contact Angela Bole in the BISG office at 646-336-7141 or angela(at)bisg(dot)org.

The survey findings are available for sale both as a PDF summary report and as a complete data compendium, accessible online. A substantial discount is available for BISG members. The first installment of Volume Two of Student Attitudes Toward Content in Higher Education is available as of February 21, 2012. For more information or to order a copy, please visit

About the Book Industry Study Group, Inc.
The Book Industry Study Group, Inc. (BISG) is the U.S. book industry’s leading trade association for policy, standards and research. The mission of BISG is to create a more informed, empowered and efficient book industry supply chain for both physical and digital products. Membership consists of publishers, manufacturers, suppliers, wholesalers, retailers, librarians and others engaged in the business of print and electronic media. For over 30 years, BISG has provided a forum for all industry professionals to come together and efficiently address issues and concerns to advance the book community. Learn more about BISG at

About Bowker
Bowker is the world’s leading provider of bibliographic information and management solutions designed to help publishers, booksellers, and libraries better serve their customers. Creators of products and services that make books easier for people to discover, evaluate, order, and experience, the company also generates research and resources for publishers, helping them understand and meet the interests of readers worldwide. Bowker, an affiliated business of ProQuest and the official ISBN Agency for the United States and its territories, is headquartered in New Providence, New Jersey with additional operations in England and Australia.


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