Alternative Textbook Model Could Save Students A Billion Dollars

This press release originally appeared on the UMass Amherst Library News page.

A report released by MASSPIRG shows that open textbooks – an alternative to the traditional textbook – have the potential to save students more than a billion dollars each year in textbook costs.

Over the past few decades, college textbook prices have increased 812%—more than three times the rate of inflation. The College Board suggests students budget more than $1,200 for textbooks and supplies each year.

“Understanding that the high cost of commercial textbooks (print and electronic) is a major concern for both students and their parents, the Office of the Provost and the University Libraries have joined together to support faculty interested in providing their students with a less costly yet educationally rewarding alternative to expensive commercial textbooks,” says Jay Schafer, Director of UMass Amherst Libraries.

The increase in used textbook markets, rental programs, and e-textbooks has saved students some money up front, but the price of these options is determined by the ever-increasing cost of a new print edition – meaning they will never be enough to solve the problem.

“One thing is clear: the current textbook market does not deliver the educational opportunity it can and should,” stated Chairwoman Raichel, UMass Student Government Association

Today’s report analyzes data from five pilot programs around the country, including the program at UMass Amherst, that encourage faculty to replace their traditional textbooks with open textbooks – faculty-written, peer-reviewed textbooks that are published under an open license – meaning that they are available free online, they are free to download, and print copies are available at $10-40.

Based on the data from these programs, the report concludes that when a student has their traditional, introductory-level textbook replaced with an open textbook, they save $128 on average per course.

Using that estimate, the report concludes that wider adoption of open textbooks in place of traditional textbooks would result in billions of dollars in savings for students.

“If every full-time undergraduate had just one of their traditional textbooks replaced with an open textbook each year, it could save students nationally almost $1.5 billion in textbook costs,” says MASSPIRG Textbooks Campaign Coordinator Matthew Magalhaes.

There are over 160 open textbooks available on the Open Textbook Library that faculty could adopt in their classrooms immediately.

The report urges campuses and institutions to take action on high textbook prices and provide the training and resources faculty need to switch to open textbooks, encourages policy-makers to support these efforts encourages faculty to adopt open textbooks when available.

The benefits are greater than cost savings. Faculty report that students are more engaged and better prepared. […] We can all see the benefits - the use of open education materials means better education for more students,” says Scholarly Communication & Special Initiatives Librarian Marilyn Billings.

A copy of the report, “Open Textbooks: The Billion-Dollar Solution,” is available at

MASSPIRG is an independent statewide student organization that works on issues like environmental protection, consumer protection, and hunger and homelessness. For nearly 40 years students working with their campus PIRG chapters have been making a real difference in people's lives and winning concrete changes to build a better world.