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A bookshelf filled with unread textbooks?

A new and highly entertaining survey from a company called Koofers Inc. delivers these grave tidings: 14 percent of textbooks purchased by college students are never cracked.

Koofers, an online company that champions "open and free access" to course materials, reviewed data collected from 76,757 course reviews submitted by its users. The company says it inserted a question about textbook use "after students raised concerns about unused textbooks."

The response: one-third of students reported using their textbook "a lot," 28 percent "a good amount," 25 percent "a little" and 14 percent not at all. (A few said the question wasn't applicable to their course, presumably for lack of a textbook.)

The company's sobering conclusion: "The college textbook market is estimated to exceed $10 billion annually, so this data suggests that as much as $1.4 billion is being wasted every year through the sale of textbooks that students never use."

But hey: even a shelf full of unread textbooks can impress.

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By Daniel de Vise  |  April 2, 2010; 8:58 AM ET
Categories:  Online , Pedagogy , Research  | Tags: Online education, academic research, textbooks  
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Next: Did 1 senior in 50 apply to Harvard?


Their web address is just that should be included.

Posted by: lbradshaw1 | April 2, 2010 9:17 AM | Report abuse

Many of my textbooks were just used for the problem sets. If you're teacher is a good enough lecturer, you don't go through the book that much.

However, I now have those books on my office shelf for reference and they do get used. There's a couple I sold back I wish I still had (oh, Mechanics of Materials book, I miss you). My notes wouldn't make any sense to me now, but a well written textbook you're somewhat familiar with is very helpful. I can't really imagine why a liberal arts major would reference an old textbook though.

Posted by: em15 | April 2, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

I took some classes like that. They'd list a whole bunch of books, but the grade in the class would be based on papers.

The smart students skipped the reading unless they needed it for the papers.

Posted by: RedBird27 | April 2, 2010 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Wow, what an amazing story. I'm wondering if there were any particular book or books that were left untouched...

Posted by: profstudent | April 3, 2010 6:25 AM | Report abuse

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Posted by: plzzfjdsiao | April 3, 2010 8:23 AM | Report abuse

I'm a college prof at a mediocre state university. The number of my students who refused to read was much higher than 14% -- more like 75%. And this was in the humanities, where we carefully analyzed the texts in class and where it was really important for them to read. I tried everything to get these lazy bums to crack the books, but nothing worked. So, finally, I gave up and no longer require any reading. We're all much happier!

Posted by: crazycatlady | April 3, 2010 9:26 AM | Report abuse

In the sciences (chem, bio, phys), I found that textbooks are put on the syllabus but are never used because the teacher uses PowerPoint slides instead, which are then distributed to the students. I would say that upwards of 50% of my textbooks were never used because of this. Why spend time on the book when the most important concepts, examples and sample problems for the test have already been cherry-picked and distributed?

Posted by: segeny | April 3, 2010 10:01 AM | Report abuse


"more like 75% not reading textbook"
Hard to believe. Was that true back even 10 years ago? If not, what results in such a situation? Is it desirable? If not, are education leaders aware of it?


"Why spend time on the book when the most important concepts, examples and sample problems for the test have already been cherry-picked and distributed?"

Interesting point!
Personally I would apply it to "selectives" (I know I just created this word :) and focus most of my resources
to courses that I either Value Most or am Most Interested in.

Oh btw, thanks, Daniel de Vise, for bringing up interesting topics all the time.

Posted by: knowledgenotebook | April 3, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

It has been 20 years since I was in school at and maybe 30% of my classmates did half the reading. I was at a good public univerity. I actually did about 75% and found that it was what made the difference when I made it to grad school. The most frustrating cases though were all the books our professors assinged that they had written. To often the lectures were just a rehash. I know a lot of students that just decided to do one or another thing go to class or read. Honestly reading often gave you a better education. If we want higher education to be more worthwhile professors need to focus less on textbooks and really finding readings that extend the lectures.

Posted by: Brooklander | April 3, 2010 12:16 PM | Report abuse

for my undergrad work I really didn't use the textbooks I purchased except for Physics (such a waste of cash).

But for my master's I read nearly the entire set of textbooks and other reading material that was required or suggested. If I didn't I just couldn't keep up with the in class discussions. Oddly enough, all except one of those books I was able to borrow from the library for as long as I needed. Much better use of money!

Posted by: lynn27 | April 3, 2010 3:42 PM | Report abuse

Great info I would also suggest using
Save Money, Save The Planet specializes in the recycling of textbooks, DVDs, CDs. Buying used textbooks not only saves you money, but cuts down on greenhouse gases caused by the manufacturing of new textbooks.
With you're not only saving trees, you are saving some green.

Posted by: greentextbooks | April 3, 2010 5:54 PM | Report abuse

I have acquired a pretty good education over the years just buying used text books at Good Will and Salvation Army stores. I never received a deploma but I am better educated then many that have.

Posted by: OldCoot1 | April 3, 2010 8:18 PM | Report abuse

Those 18-20 are also adults. Textbooks for universities and colleges can definitely be thick with extremely detailed information. The survey by Koofers is not too bad because 14% of university students don't use their textbook while the progressively higher percentages indicate that university students used the textbook more. Every textbook company should make sure their books are condensed to not waste too much paper and for lower prices.

Posted by: LibertyForAll | April 3, 2010 9:47 PM | Report abuse


"Honestly reading often gave you a better education. If we want higher education to be more worthwhile professors need to focus less on textbooks and really finding readings that extend the lectures."
Right on. And if I may add, make lecture interesting or somehow capture students' attention should be really a part of the art of teaching. As I recall, for the first class of "International Commerce Law" so many years ago...but memory is still vivid, my law professor asked us if we know the word, "consideration", all of us thought our command of English was pretty decent, and yet, we didn't know the meaning of "consideration" within legal context... no wonder this professor was one of the best in the field in a country of 1 billion and more... sorry for slight digression and yet it may still be relevant.

Posted by: knowledgenotebook | April 4, 2010 6:30 PM | Report abuse

I guess I'm just a nerd. Why buy the books if you're not going to read them? I almost always did the reading for my classes, and when I didn't do the reading, I was embarrassed and paranoid that I wouldn't have much to contribute to class discussions. I took many seminar courses in a number of departments (in both my majors and in other humanities), where the reading was more demanding. But the seminars were some of my favorite courses in college, and I often quite liked the assigned readings.

I went to a top public university in Virginia, and while some students got away with not reading, most were serious about reading and generally being prepared for/in classes.

Posted by: DCgalnSeattle | April 5, 2010 6:41 PM | Report abuse

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