The average student spends more than $600 buying textbooks in an academic year.

Relative to the total cost of college, the price of textbooks is pretty low. But in the last few years critics and students have started to notice that textbook costs, like tuition, increase every year. This is particularly true of books no one really wants, like the textbook for organic chemistry, which has no value at all outside of a college classroom.

But it turns out the price of textbooks is actually falling. According to a press release by the National Association of College Stores:

Students estimate they spend $655 annually on required course materials – that is down from $667 two years ago and from $702 four years ago, according to the latest Student Watch study conducted by OnCampus Research, a division of the National Association of College Stores (NACS).

How did this happen? Well no one’s really sure but the reduced cost of college doesn’t appear to come from more use of technology (though electronic textbooks offered some promise to save costs). According to the article it’s textbook rental that’s responsible for the lower prices. It appears almost 75 percent of students prefer textbook rental.

About three-quarters of college bookstores now offer textbook rental, though admittedly not for all assigned books. [Books image via Shutterstock]

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Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer