There are two new reports that have been issued that takes a look at student spending on textbooks and digital textbooks The results are particularly compelling because two different research firms, using two different methodologies, arrived at roughly the same conclusion regarding the multi-year decline in student spending on course materials.

Student Monitor’s LIFESTYLE & MEDIA report found that student spending on course materials went from an average of $691 for the 2014-2015 academic year to $422 for the 2019-2020 school year, a decline of 39% over a six-year period. The 2019-2020 figure represents a 14% decline as compared to the average student spend of $492 during the 2018-2019 academic year.

The most recent Student Watch survey indicated that course material spending dropped from $638 for the 2014-2015 academic year to $413 for the 2019-2020 academic year, a decline of 35%  over the last six years. The latest figure represents a 0.5% decline as compared to the average student spend of $415 during the 2018-2019 academic year.

Students continue to embrace a wide range of options for acquiring their course materials: according to the Student Monitor report, the $422 in average student spending during the 2019-2020 school year included  $174 for new, printed textbooks; $95 for used, printed textbooks; $67 for rented, printed textbooks; $39 for eTextbooks for unlimited use; and $24 for eTextbooks for limited time use.

Student Watch reports that during the 2019-2020 school year, students embraced a wide range of options, mixing print, digital, rental and purchase. 48 percent preferred some type of print book, while 21 percent of students preferred digital-only content. During the year, 80 percent of students purchased course materials during the year, and 44 percent rented course materials.

What is the methodology of the two reports? Obviously most private publishers does not share sales data, ditto with e-textbook provides such as Chegg, Amazon, Google, Perlego or Cengage Learning. The 2020 Student Watch survey involved more than 14,000 students across 35 institutions.  The Student Monitor findings are the result of hour-long, one-on-one, on campus intercept interviews conducted among 1,202 four-year, full time undergraduates attending 93 representative colleges and universities.

“Numbers are going to differ in studies like these just based on general methodology,” Student Watch’s Conley said.  “What you really want to look at are things like overall trends in where the data’s going, what it looks like. And in the case of Student Watch and Student Monitor, we’re seeing the overall trends be consistent. Both of us are reporting a decline in course material spending, which is what you really want to look at when you’re comparing the two and seeing if they’re telling the same story.”

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AAP Video: Student Spending on College Course Materials Continues Multi-Year Decline from Cara Duckworth on Vimeo.

Michael Kozlowski is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past ten years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times.