Diapers, rosaries and gingerbread are among the many everyday products sucked into the trade war between the U.S. and China, but textbooks — a product that directly affects the lives of college students — are predicted to be safe from dramatic price increases.
Despite a 15% tariff imposed on textbooks in the latest escalation of the trade war between the U.S. and China, local retailers like the Duck Store and textbook publishers say that they aren’t expecting any impacts on their businesses and don’t expect prices to go up.
“It’s not something that we have seen a huge emphasis on,” Eric Breitenstein, the Duck Store’s marketing director, said of the tariffs. “We’re always kind of aware that may impact prices for students, but this isn’t something we’ve seen a discussion about.”
Breitenstein said that he hasn’t seen any unusual increases in prices other than one to two dollar increases for certain titles.
In August, the Trump administration released a list of products that were subject to additional tariffs, according to a press release from the Association of American Publishers. The Trump administration made an exemption for religious texts and delayed tariffs on children’s books, but textbooks still made the list.
Many major textbook publishers say that a large amount of their printing happens in the United States, so there is little worry among publishers about the effect that the tariffs imposed on imported Chinese products will have on textbook prices and the publishers’ business.
“The reason why we don't anticipate any major change in our business is because we only print a very small percentage of our books offshore,” Elena McAnespie, the sales and marketing director for University of California Press, said in an email.
McAnespie said in her email that the dollar amounts of the tariffs are not as large compared with other commercial publishers since University of California Press is a university press, so its print runs are smaller than those of commercial publishers.
With that being said, McAnespie said that University of California Press is “preparing to further diversify” who it works with in book production to mitigate risk in the case that higher tariffs are imposed.
A spokesperson for McGraw-Hill Education, one of the larger commercial publishers, said in an email that the company does “limited printing in China” and that the company doesn’t “anticipate any material effect on the business or prices.”
A spokesperson for Pearson, another major publisher, said that the majority of its printing is done in the U.S. but that Pearson is a global company and, as a result, is “closely monitoring the tariff situation.”
Even if publishers don’t expect the tariffs to impact prices or their business, the AAP expressed concern about the precedent that a tariff on textbooks sets.
“A tariff on books is a tax on information, and at odds with longstanding US policy of not imposing tariffs on educational, scientific and cultural materials,” the AAP said in its August statement.
Even without the tariffs, the textbook industry is changing to keep up with an increasing demand for digital products.
In June, John Wiley & Sons, a Hoboken, New Jersey-based publishing company, said in its fourth quarter investor call that over three-fourths of the company’s revenue now comes from its digital products.
Textbooks are expected to cost on average $1,178 per student for the 2019-2020 academic year, according to the University of Oregon Financial Aid Office, but recent research found that students are spending less on textbooks as well.
Studies released in September by independent research firm Student Monitor and Student Watch, which is funded by the National Association of College Stores, found that average student spending on textbooks and course materials has decreased in recent years.
Student Watch’s survey, which involved over 20,000 students from 42 educational institutions, found that course material spending fell to $415 in the 2018-2019 school year, down from $638 in the 2014-2015 school year.
— Anna Mattson contributed reporting to this story.