Why do education books cost so much? 

This post is a bit different, just a question: why do books on education cost so much? I’m not moaning (although I am bemoaning the fact that I just can’t afford to read all the great books out there), I just want to know the answer. I can’t make the figures add up and there doesn’t seem to be any hard information available.

I won’t name publishers, authors or titles, but there are a few recently published books I’d like to read at the moment. If you’re a teacher using social media you’ll have heard of them. They are all under 200 pages – that’s a slim volume – and apart from the cover utilise no colour printing. Each is currently priced from £16.99 to £24.99. For that same money you could get a newly published hardback novel or an all-singing, all-dancing, exam board endorsed, full colour A level textbook complete with a supporting website and possibly an app.

So why so much? I don’t begrudge anyone their fair due – authors, editors, printers, binders, retailers and publishers all deserve their cut, and I appreciate that the physical print publishing industry is having a tough time. I have, however, found it difficult to find break-downs of costs.

Zachary Crockett used his experiences working in the publishing of HE textbooks in the US to produce this breakdown in his 2013 article Why are textbooks so expensive?:

  • 5% Production costs
  • 15% Author Royalties 
  • 32% Editorial costs 
  • 15% Marketing
  • 1% Shipping
  • 22% Profit

Of course taxes will be levied on the profit and there will be other costs such as depreciation. Nevertheless, this gives us an idea of the breakdown of the wholesale price. Retailers have their own costs and profit margin so will add around 25% mark-up on the wholesale price.

I understand that books aimed at teachers are aimed at a specialised small market (although there are nearly half a million of us in the UK),  so overheads can’t be spread across large volume sales, but actual production costs are a small part of the total price, and surely editorial input is proportional to the length off a book. Presumably a slim 160 page volume requires less input than a 450 page novel? Surely the marketing budget will be proportional to the size of the market? Usually I hear about new books because someone tweets about them – often the author.

So, how do the costs work? Where does the money go? Why are education books so expensive? I’d really like to know, because if they were cheaper I’d be buying two or three of those I mentioned, rather than deciding on just one.

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