Textbook Access Codes: How Will the Cost Impact Students?

Textbook publishers offer access codes as an alternative to students.

By Kathryn Knight Randolph

October 07, 2016

Textbook Access Codes: How Will the Cost Impact Students?

The college textbook industry is changing, and unfortunately, the outcome is not favorable to college students trying to attend college on a student budget. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) has found that textbook companies are creating a monopoly on the textbook market with the introduction of access codes.

Textbook access codes must be purchased by an individual for their course, and they provide digital access to the textbook, homework assignments, quizzes and any other supplemental materials. Once the access code is used, it becomes useless, according to the report Access Denied by U.S. PIRG. It’s a one-time code for one individual. This doesn’t seem too problematic until you figure in the fact that many students resell their books at the end of the semester, loan it to friends or check out textbooks from the library instead of buying them.

In their statement on The Huffington Post, U.S. PIRG revealed that they found approximately 32% of courses included access codes in the necessary materials at colleges across the country. At campus bookstores, the cost for an access code averaged $100.24. Only 28% of bookstore access codes came in an unbundled form, meaning students had to buy other products in addition to the access code.

U.S. PIRG points out that access codes now limit student choices when it comes to their textbooks. They state on The Huffington Post, “In one swoop, the publishers remove a student’s ability to opt-out of buying their product, eliminate any and all competition in the market, and look good doing it because the codes are cheaper than publisher’s exorbitantly priced textbooks.” They further go on to point out:

  • Access codes remove the ability to share textbooks or borrow from the library, which is especially difficult on those students that already face financial hardship when paying for college.
  • Including assignments, quizzes and tests in the electronic format requires students to purchase the product instead of having the ability to opt-out.
  • Switching to an entirely electronic format eliminates any kind of oversupply, and thereby the used book market.

There is nothing wrong with the access codes, in and off themselves. It’s the fact that they are not reusable and may force students into buying course materials who might have otherwise found a free or low-cost alternative. Whether or not the textbook industry will change their stance on access codes remains to be unseen. After all, access codes are relatively new to the textbook market. But for now, students lack the freedom to choose to buy the access codes or go without, which means an increase in profits for textbook companies, according to U.S. PIRG.

Do you use access codes for your college courses? Do you love them – or hate them?

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