How SlugBooks Disrupted the College Textbook Industry

College student with books

The cost of higher education is a much-discussed topic. This is because of two main factors. One, there has been a great deal of degree inflation, so much so that getting a college degree is about being able to get a job as much as being able to get a better-paying job. Two, higher education has become more and more expensive, with the result that college graduates are coming out with a great deal of debt. Combined, these factors make the cost of higher education a very widespread issue, thus ensuring much discussion on the matter.

How Does it Work?

Having said that, it is important to note that the cost of higher education isn’t just made up of the cost of tuition. Instead, there are a lot of other expenses as well, with an excellent example being college textbooks. This can sound strange, but the cost of college textbooks is a very serious issue, not least because of the efforts of college textbooks publishers.

To some extent, the cost of textbooks can be explained by the costs sustained in the process of putting them as well as their supplementary materials together. This can be seen in how the college textbooks for the humanities tend to be less expensive than the college textbooks for the sciences and the social sciences because the former costs less than the latter. However, that isn’t the whole of it.

First, there is a serious lack of competition between college textbook publishers. Unsurprisingly, this means that the professors don’t have a lot of options to choose from even if they care about minimizing the cost of textbooks for their students, thus resulting in higher prices for said individuals. However, the true situation is even worse than it sounds because college textbook publishers won’t put out college textbooks for every subject. Instead, if they see that one of their competitors has already established a strong position in either a subject or a set of subjects, they will avoid those subjects in preference for focusing on their own particular specialties. Something that makes for even less competition than what the number of competitors would indicate on initial consideration.

Second, college textbook publishers have put considerable effort into eliminating potential substitutes. For example, they put out edition after edition, which is useful because that forces college students to buy new textbooks rather than used textbooks. Something that college textbook publishers have strong incentive to avoid because they don’t get paid for the sales of used textbooks. Likewise, it is not a coincedence that college textbook publishers have been pushing for supplementary material. After all, if students want to get their hands on the supplementary material that may or may not decide a considerable portion of their grades, they are going to need to buy a new textbook for the code that comes with it. Something that undermines not just the market for used textbooks but also other substitutes such as borrowing textbooks and copying textbooks. Summed up, college textbook publishers are very good at creating as well as maintaining a captive market, which is not very good for the students who make up that captive market.

How Does SlugBooks Come Into This?

By this point, it should be clear that there is a serious problem when it comes to college textbooks. Naturally, that means that various parties have come with various solutions, with some being further along than others. For instance, it is interesting to note that there is an online service called SlugBooks, which is meant to help interested individuals minimize the cost of their textbooks.

The basic concept behind SlugBooks is very simple and straightforward. In short, it provides interested individuals with a full list of their options for buying both new textbooks and used textbooks, thus enabling them to choose the one that is best-suited to their particular needs and circumstances. This might not seem like much, but it can be a huge source of help for students who have tunnel-visioned upon the one or two options that are available to them through their campus. Having a full list of options is particularly helpful because students tend to have less life experience, meaning that in spite of their tech savviness, they might not think of shopping for their textbooks online unless those options are presented to them.

In any case, SlugBooks founder David Miller had more experience than most when it came to college textbooks. After all, he was a member of a student co-op that sought to combat the problem at a time when online shopping was becoming more and more popular, with the result that said co-op collapsed because of the competition from this new source. However, Miller decided that there was real potential in the idea of buying textbooks online, which is why he built a website that started up on his campus before spreading outwards to other schools with other user bases. Initially, SlugBooks was nothing more than a side project for Miller, as shown by how he was working full-time for a start-up called Like.com. This lasted until Like.com was bought out by Google, which created a conflict of interest for Miller. Due to this, he had a choice to either stay with Google but shut down his side project or leave the Google but keep his side project running. Considering that SlugBooks still exists in the present time, interested individuals should have no problems guessing which option Miller chose. Still, he still had serious doubts about his side project at that point in time, which can be seen in how he decided to work full-time for Deal Map before that winded up being bought out by Google as well.

Nowadays, SlugBooks is no longer a new name on the scene. Instead, it has survived for a number of years already, meaning that it has proven itself to possess a certain measure of staying power. Furthermore, so long as the problem of over-priced college textbooks remains, it seems safe to say that there will continue to be opportunities for SlugBooks to make further gains in spite of the obstacles standing in its way.


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