Students Save Tons by Renting Textbooks

With college classes back in session, the practice of renting textbooks is gaining popularity as students try to trim costs that are getting outrageous.

As a textbook author, let me say this idea does not thrill me, but as a bill-paying parent I see the attraction.

Chegg, BookRenter, CampusBookRentals and Skoobit all are sites that claim they can help students save a bundle.

The Philadelphia Inquirer said this is a hot campus trend:

" 'It's the biggest, hottest thing this year in college bookstores,' said Frank Henninger, director of Villanova's campus bookstore. Last year, his shop rented not a single book. This year, it's renting 620 titles through a partnership with a national leader in the textbook rental business,

" 'This groundswell of mass numbers of college bookstores renting books occurred like a rogue wave,' he said.

"In just two years, the number of campus bookstores offering rentals has jumped from a few dozen to 1,500, according to the National Association of College Stores.

"Barnes & Noble, which operates 637 campus bookstores, including those at Temple, the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel, and Community College of Philadelphia, piloted six rental programs last fall. This year, more than 300 are renting textbooks, accounting for about 30 percent of sales on a given campus.

" 'It has exploded. It really has,' said Jade Roth, vice president of books and digital strategy for Barnes & Noble College Booksellers.

"Renting is among the cheapest of several options, Roth said, running down a typical cost breakdown. If your typical text costs $100 for a new edition, used will cost $75, an e-book -- or digital version -- $55, and a rental $45."

Crain's Cleveland Business found the rental market depends on the course and the availability of used books:

"At Cleveland State, results have been more of a mixed bag, said Keith McCann, director of the university's bookstore. Purchasing, he said, still outweighs renting because of the flexibility it offers the students. There's still a large demand to buy used books for the basic courses because there's such a large, relatively inexpensive supply of the materials, McCann said. Still, he said his bookstore has 35 percent of its inventory available for rent.

" 'Popular is a relative term, but people are choosing the option to rent,' Mr. McCann said. 'Most of the time they choose it because of budget reasons and sometimes out of necessity. Sometimes, even if it's a book they want to keep, they'll rent it.'

"David Cummings, Lorain County Community College's director of auxiliary services, said the community college model is aimed at making higher education affordable and textbook rental programs fit nicely into the fold. The program still is in its pilot stage and only 12 titles are offered, but Mr. Cummings said it's been a 'huge success right off the bat' and the available titles are 'flying off the shelves.' "

USA Today says that since 1994, prices of college textbooks have risen nearly four times faster than the inflation rate. Renting is a way to cut into rising costs:

"Typically, about 25 percent of the bookstores' titles were available for rent. This fall, the stores expect to offer about 40 percent of titles for rent.

" I've had students come up and thank us for this,' says Bill Coulter, bookstore director at the University of Texas-Arlington, where 6,000 students chose to rent last school year. 'In my 44 years in this business, that never happened before.'

" 'One student came up to the register and saved $300 ... he was excited,' says Lee Cobb, textbook manager at the University of North Florida's bookstore."

What is the one college textbook that you journalists have kept on your shelf since you've left school? My favorite was a big fat red media law book. It still is sitting on my shelf more than 30 years after class ended.

CORRECTION: This post erroneously stated the name of the publication that reported on the textbook rental business in northeast Ohio. The post has been updated with the correct name, Crain's Cleveland Business.

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    Al Tompkins

    Al Tompkins is The Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcasting and online. He has taught thousands of journalists, journalism students and educators in newsrooms around the world.


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