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The Textbook-Advertisement Revolution


If there’s one thing that students of all ages and backgrounds can agree on, it’s that textbooks are very, very expensive. And for those who aren’t familiar with textbooks’ pricing, a quick Google search for textbooks, or perhaps a visit to one of the many secondhand textbook marketplaces on the internet (BooksRun, which is widely regarded as one of the best, will do), should illustrate the books’ generally considerable costs.

The reasons for textbooks’ high pricing, upon some careful examination, isn’t difficult to understand. Almost all textbooks are authored by multiple writers, each of whom needs to be paid; these individuals must create a substantial amount of content. Researchers need to back textbooks’ claims up with facts, editors need to review and improve upon textbooks’ writing, illustrators need to create textbooks’ pictures and diagrams, designers need to arrange textbooks’ layout, printers need to print textbooks’ numerous pages, and—well, the list of those involved in textbook production is almost endless. Suffice to say textbooks aren’t very cheap to make.

To alleviate some of the financial burden associated with buying textbooks, some educational and business professionals have made a unique and potentially effective suggestion: sell advertisement space in said textbooks, thereby passing savings produced by advertisers’ payments onto buyers.

Is this plan too good to be true, or will it mark the start of a textbook affordability revolution? Let’s take a look at everything we know about potentially printing ads in textbooks, as well as some possible financial byproducts of doing so!

The Basics

The idea behind printing ads in textbooks is simple: students are a desirable demographic for businesses. Buying ad space in textbooks allows these businesses’ marketers to reach students—and potential customers. Students will conceivably support these advertisements because they reduce textbook costs, businesses will conceivably support these advertisements because they have a chance to spread awareness of their products and/or services, and textbook manufacturers will conceivably support these advertisements because they produce more up-front revenue than traditional sales.

Implementation and Hurdles

For the textbook-advertisement revolution to really get moving, a couple things will need to happen. First, a textbook manufacturer will have to take the initiative to reach out to potentially interested companies, thereby breaking their industry’s tradition of dealing directly with schools. Next, these manufacturers will have to inform educational institutions of proposed advertisements and assure that they’re on-board with the program; this will probably involve tailoring advertisements and advertisers to suit school officials’ preferences.

Potential hurdles include disagreements relating to specific ads and making the practice of placing ads in textbooks an accepted and commonplace practice. In short, the idea is tremendous; it’s the implementation that can be tricky.

Cost Effectiveness

Textbook prices vary by class and school, but they can cost as much as $200. For the sake of argument and gauging the potential cost effectiveness of in-textbook ads, let’s assume that the average book costs students $100. Each textbook’s page count also varies, but once again for the sake of this example, let’s assume that the average textbook contains about 500 pages.

$100 divided by 500 pages means that manufacturers, to cover their costs and turn an acceptable profit, must make about 20 cents per page. Thus, to offer textbooks to students for free, companies will need to make about one dollar per five pages per book in advertisements. This is probably best done by seeking out multiple large-scale advertisers (a “local” section of ads could be reserved for small businesses). Most interested businesses will probably be geographically close to students—tailored advertisements will have to be coordinated by manufacturers—but online companies could very well be interested in showing off their products and services.

To charge just five dollars per textbook, manufacturers will need to secure $95 in ad revenue per book. In a school wherein 1000 students have to buy a specific textbook, this means that $95,000 worth of ad revenue is required. This might seem like a lot, but advertisers’ messages will be seen by one thousand potential customers; the ad space within textbooks will be very valuable and sought after, especially in a day and age when more than $150 billion is spent on advertising annually. Also, textbooks need not cost five dollars; their pricing can be tweaked based upon ad revenue. Most students would be happy to pay $20 for a textbook.

The Bottom Line

Like many other business spheres, advertising and sales are evolving. The ways that companies, individuals, and organizations go about turning a profit and striving for greatness are different today than they were even a decade ago. In a testament to today’s changing business tide, innovative ideas—such as placing advertisements in textbooks to defray costs for students and guarantee profits for manufacturers—are coming about very frequently. More impressive than the fact that many of these ideas are good is the fact that many of these ideas are viable.

Don’t be surprised to see affordable ad-based textbooks rising to prominence in the near future.