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Textbook cost and author royalties

A classmate claimed that the reason that textbooks are so expensive is because of the royalties paid to authors. That classmate further stated that maybe if there was no copyright and authors weren’t being paid royalties, that textbook prices would be much lower. I knew immediately that this was faulty reasoning. So, I left class planning to do some research on the subject. Here is some of what I found:

According to Cyndi Allison in her article Sticker Shock, “Texts today include color, illustrations, photos, and other reference materials such as page tabs, which make textbooks more expensive to produce than straight words on paper.” She also states that “Manufacturing costs top out as the biggest portion of your text receipt at around 30 percent with marketing running second at over 15 percent.” That is 45 percent total – that does not include the cost of shipping the heavy textbooks or the cut by the store that sells the book.

In Where Your Money Goes by Ryne Dittmer of Iowa State, the author breaks down the percentages of the total book cost of and who gets what. Dittmer says the highest percentage, 39.2 percent, goes to Publishers and their cost of production where only 7 percent of the total serves as income for the publisher. Dittmer further points out the author’s income – likely split among several authors – at just 11.7 percent.

Still not convinced? Here is a graphic by the NACS Foundation that appeared on the BYU website in a section titled Why Are Textbooks So Expensive – it shows a clear breakdown of where all the money goes:

Note: this graphic can only be found on the BYU site, the original on NCAS can only be accessed by registered members

Note: this graphic can only be found on the BYU site, the original on NACS web site can only be accessed by registered members

…. and here is a sometimes humorous discourse on textbook prices found on YouTube  – it has some good, solid insight from a textbook author as well


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  1. AileenBachant
    October 26th, 2009 at 16:56 | #1

    I knew from working in University Publications that the cost of images and colored ink really jacked up the price of published materials, but I had no idea that the average combined income of publisher and author was only 11.7% of the final cost! As a student still buying books, you will probably find this difficult to argue, but do you feel that maybe the authors aren’t receiving ENOUGH income for the texts produced?

    By the way – loved the the dollar bill image you used to graph the cost of book production.

  2. October 26th, 2009 at 18:01 | #2

    I agree, Aileen, great graphic!

    Have you been able to find a similar kind of graphic for non-textbook book sales? I’ve been trying to find one for a while. Today I stumbled up this post, which links to some interesting articles on author royalties: http://pimpmynovel.blogspot.com/2009/08/anatomy-of-book-sale.html.

  3. Mary Chrapliwy
    October 26th, 2009 at 19:42 | #3

    Hi BW – I was excited to see a breakdown, but when I clicked on the link it didn’t work – went to pimp my novel and found some interesting reading though

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