I was a journalism/graphic design student, so the most outrageously expensive book I ever had to buy was maybe a $100 art history book. The "rocks for jocks" classes I took had teacher-published booklets for $15. Then again, I spent a LOT of money on design supplies, since the program was designed not to let us do anything on computers until we were juniors. So, so many pens, pencils, erasers and rulers!
Admittedly, grad school's a little different since it's assumed to be specialized, but I still spent $268 on textbooks one semester...textBOOK, I only needed one. (Accounting For Non-Profits, which is basically the only comprehensive book on the subject. There aren't much in the way of up-to-date used copies, so we were stuck. The instructor apologized profusely.) I refused to resell books, either, after I resold a $112 calculus textbook I'd bought used and only got $30 back.
There are plenty of examples of goods and services that are priced for the market: drugs, software, and consulting services are three. Sometimes the selling strategy is not a matter of profit by unit, but establishing brand, dominating the market share, getting manufacturing quantities of scale, being allowed to do other business in the country, or getting huge tax breaks.
"This, after all, is opera, opera in New York, not some dainty pastime like professional hockey..." -- Chip Brown, NYT Magazine 24 Mar 13
- Most academic textbooks are expensive because they are printed in low quantities.
- Hardcovers are more expensive than softcovers.
- Textbooks are expensive to produce since they have extensive technical review, editing, and scientific illustrations.
- Color printing is a lot more expensive to do than black and white.
- One edition is usually good for 4-7 years, before a new edition is needed to stay current in one's field.
- If the printing is done overseas, there are additional shipping costs and taxes.
One problem with the cost of U.S. textbooks is that they are often offered for sale in hardcover only. If softcovers were available (which don't last that long), the price would be perhaps half. Publishers cannot sell textbooks in every country for the same price, so they cut production costs with cheaper binding and paper.
In some countries people make a lot less money and have less to spend on education. There may be government subsidies and tax breaks for academic books. Perhaps the U.S. editions are high priced to compensate for the lower prices in other countries. It's all about what the market will tolerate.