- Data note
- Open Access
Textbooks authors, publishers, formats and costs in higher education
BMC Research Notes volume 12, Article number: 56 (2019)
There is little empirical data reported on retail prices of college textbooks beyond self-reported surveys and no published datasets. Textbooks, as an ancillary cost, can contribute to the overall rising cost of education which can impact upon students’ ability to succeed in Higher Education. This study sought to understand more about costs of college textbooks by conducting a systematic collection of several thousand textbooks from faculty readings lists in one Higher Education Institution in Ireland and a retrieval and analysis of the retail prices of a selection of those books.
Queries were made of the course catalogue database of a Higher Education Institution in Ireland resulting in generation of records for required and recommended textbooks for 15,414 books from 3030 unique courses for the academic year 2017–2018. This data was cleaned and processed before being used to query Google Books API. The dataset presented here represents the combination of data from the course catalogue and the Google Books API queries and comprises 2940 records of textbooks. Details for each book including title, authors, publisher, ISBN, retail price, ebook format, pdf availability, and public domain availability.
There is little empirical data reported on retail prices of college textbooks beyond self-reported surveys [1,2,3] and no published datasets. Textbooks, as an ancillary cost, can contribute to the overall cost of education which is rising and can seriously impact upon students’ ability to succeed in Higher Education . This study sought to understand more about costs of college textbooks by conducting a systematic collection of several thousand textbooks from faculty readings lists in one Higher Education Institution in Ireland and a retrieval and analysis of the retail prices of a selection of those books [5, 6].
An analysis and discussion of the implications of the dataset are published elsewhere including extrapolations to show the likely full economic costings of books on average per student for their studies . Other research has been conducted on college textbooks such as examining whether there is a gender bias in booklists . Our dataset is considerably larger than those considered by such studies to date and hence we hope could be of use to other researchers.
This dataset comprises meta-data on textbooks from readings lists from one Higher Education Institution in Ireland. The data comprises 2940 records each representing a textbook (from ~ 578 courses). The institution has a student population of over 10,000. Each record in the dataset corresponds to a book. Each book has: one or more authors, a publisher, an 11 digit ISBN, a 13 digit ISBN, a url pointing to a thumbnail image of the book, an indicator of whether the book is available in an ePub version, an indicator as to whether the book is the public domain, and an indicator as to whether the book is available in a PDF version. The complete records are available as a JSON file made available with this article. See SampleRecord1.js for an example of one JSON record.
As per Data file 6, 1168 (40%) books have either a PDF or ebook version. 1219 (39.7%) have a PDF version and 1442 (34.65%) have an ebook version. 6 (0.18%) books have a public domain license. As per Data file 7, 596 (20%) of books have a retail price in US dollars. The prices range from $0.99 to $452. The mode of the retail price of a book is $9.99, the mean price is $56.67 and the median is $40. 2867 books have one or more discernable authors. The distribution of the number of authors per book is given in Data file 8.
Table 1 provides detailed links to all the data described in this article.
Google Books has known limitations and does not provide comprehensive coverage of all books . Its indexation policies and coverage rules are not released by Google.
Structured Query Language
Senack E, Donoghue R. Covering the cost: why we can no longer afford to ignore high textbook prices. Report, The Student PIRGs. 2016.
Allen E, Seaman J. Opening the textbook: educational resources in U.S. higher education, 2015–16. Report, BABSON Survey Research Group. 2016.
Ma J, Baum S, Pender M, Welch M. Trends in College Pricing. Report, The College Board. 2017. https://trends.collegeboard.org/sites/default/files/2017-trends-in-college-pricing_0.pdf.
Silver LS, Stevens RE, Clow KE. Marketing professors’ perspectives on the cost of college textbooks: a pilot study. J Educ Bus. 2012;87(1):1–6.
Costello E, Brown M, Bolger R, Soverino T. Determining textbook cost, formats and licensing with google books API: a case study from an open textbook project. Inform Technol Lib. 2019;38.
Brown M, Costello E, Nic Giolla Mhichíl M. From books to MOOCs and back again: an Irish case study of open digital textbooks. Genoa, Italy; 2018.
Google Books API. 2018. https://developers.google.com/books/docs/v1/reference/volumes. Accessed 4 Oct 2018.
Costello E, Brown M, Brunton J, Bolger R, Soverino T. Textbook costs and accessibility: could open textbooks play a role? In: ECEL 2018 17th European Conference on e-Learning. Academic Conferences and publishing limited; 2018. p. 99.
Phull K, Ciflikli G, Meibauer G. Gender and bias in the International Relations curriculum: Insights from reading lists. Eur J Int Relat. 2018. https://doi.org/10.1177/1354066118791690.
Fagan JC. An evidence-based review of academic web search engines, 2014–2016: implications for librarians practice and research agenda. Inform Technol Lib. 2018;36(2):7–47. https://doi.org/10.6017/ital.v36i2.9718.
Costello E, Bolger R. Googlebooks: textbook dataset and code [Data set]. Zenodo. 2018. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.1489526.
EC designed the study. EC conducted the research literature review. EC and RB wrote the code and conducted the analysis. Both authors read and approved the final manuscript.
The support for this research of the Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs, The National Institute for Digital Learning, and The Open Education Unit in Dublin City University are acknowledged.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
Availability of data materials
The data and code described in this Data note can be freely and openly accessed on Zenodo at https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.1489526 .
Please see Table 1 for details and links to the data.
Consent for publication
Ethics approval and consent to participate
No human subjects were part of this study and permission was thus not required according to the Institutional Review Board guidelines of author one.
The authors declare no source of funding.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Rights and permissions
Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.
About this article
Cite this article
Costello, E., Bolger, R. Textbooks authors, publishers, formats and costs in higher education. BMC Res Notes 12, 56 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13104-019-4099-1
- Higher education
- Open textbooks
- Open education
- Open datasets
- Open science