Survey of 368 active college students reveals persistent negative attitudes towards textbook prices, a preference for used print over digital formats, and Amazon’s dominance of the market.

BOSTON, March 27, 2019 — FlatWorld, a publisher of college learning materials that are both affordable and high-quality, today released its second study for the 2018–2019 academic year on college textbook costs and purchasing habits. Following FlatWorld’s fall 2018 report, this study offers a view into students’ attitudes towards textbook costs for the spring 2019 semester, and the purchasing decisions they made in an effort to mitigate the high prices of learning materials.

“Many textbook publishers claim that digital-only distribution is the key to bringing textbook costs down. But our study’s findings paint a picture of students either turning to used print books instead of purchasing digital copies, or not buying their assigned books at all,” said Alastair Adam, CEO of FlatWorld. “When you see just how many students are deciding against buying their assigned readings, as well as how many students are forced to pay extra to complete assigned homework, it’s clear that textbook publishers are still falling short when it comes to affordability.”

The survey was taken by undergraduate students that are enrolled in classes during the spring 2019 semester. The 20-question survey was fielded using SurveyMonkey Audience, and 368 individuals responded to the survey from March 7-8, 2019.

Key findings included:

  • Students view textbooks as being too expensive: 30% of respondents reported spending more money on textbooks during the spring 2019 semester than the fall 2018 semester, and 28% reported spending about the same amount of money. When asked if they would like to leave additional comments related to textbook prices, more than 80 students wrote about college textbooks being too expensive. Select responses can be found in the full copy of the report.
  • Many students pay extra for homework: 42% of respondents reported paying extra for access to homework, in addition to the cost of their learning materials. The average amount these respondents paid for a homework access code was $92.
  • Students continue to buy old editions of assigned textbook, or don’t buy the book at all: 49% of respondents reported buying all of their textbooks used, and 31% purchased both used and new copies. Of the students who purchased at least one used textbook, 47% reported buying an older edition of their assigned textbook to save money. 40% reported not buying at least one assigned textbook because it was too expensive, and 39% said that the price of a textbook affected their decision on whether to take a class.
  • Digital formats lag in popularity: When asked how many textbooks they purchased in digital format, 30% of respondents reported not purchasing any digital books, and an additional 29% reported purchasing only one book in digital format. For the students who did buy digital textbooks, the majority (65%) reported buying them individually, with 29% purchasing them as part of a subscription offering.
  • School bookstores popularity was only bested by Amazon: When asked where they purchased their textbooks, 58% of respondents reported buying at least one book through Amazon, and 51% reported buying at least one book in person at their school. 17% of students reported buying a book directly through a publisher online, and 30% reported buying at least one through a website other than Amazon.

FlatWorld’s Spring 2019 Semester College Textbook report contains additional data on how much current students are paying for college textbooks, as well as their purchasing habits and attitudes towards textbook prices. To view and download a full copy of the report, click here.

About FlatWorld
FlatWorld publishes the most affordable, high-quality learning materials, including both digital and print textbooks, and a robust online homework platform. FlatWorld’s rapidly growing catalog features more than 135 titles across more than 20 academic subjects, and FlatWorld’s textbooks cost between $24.95 and $39.95 for digital access. Thousands of faculty members at universities across the U.S., Canada, and around the world have adopted a FlatWorld textbook. Learn more at