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Textbooks reach an epic epoch: rent or own?

March 13, 2010

Written by Julienne

Photo by Julienne

But is it right for you?

“…The bookseller is offering students a chance to lease their textbooks, but this isn’t just a quasi-library system. Barnes & Noble is attempting to recover lost profit through an innovative method.”

Take the Poll now!

And for further reading…

US News & World Report: Barnes & Noble Enters Rental Market

In August, I explored the issue of the overpriced textbooks peddled to students by on-campus bookstores.  In Part 2 of my Textbook Exposé, I’m exploring the new phenomenon of Textbook Rentals.  Is this simply an overpriced library system, or the way of the future?

Barnes & Noble is one of the major textbook retailers in the United States, and is found on over 600 campuses.  They recently started a textbook rental program at schools like George Mason University, University of Maryland, and various SUNY campuses, and they are expanding it to more colleges across the country.

Here’s how it works: students enter into a rental agreement with Barnes & Noble that lasts for the length of the semester.  Barnes & Noble rents the textbook for 42.5% of its original cost, meaning that a $70 textbook would rent for $29.75.  The renters are permitted to make notes & highlight in the book as if it were their own, but they agree to return it in saleable condition at the end of the term.  They even have the option of purchasing the book if they so choose.  Sound familiar?

Toyota Financial Services is the official payment guide website of the Toyota car company.  Through the site, they offer consumers information on leasing and purchasing a car – and tools to determine the right choice for each individual.  Their language is quite similar to that of the Barnes & Noble website.  Phrases like “Drive the Toyota of your dreams – For Less!” and “…cost-effective and useful option for students” are filling the pages.

But is Barnes & Noble really encouraging students to save money and lease their textbooks?  Have they actually listened to the call for fairer prices?  Yes and no.

Yes, the bookseller is offering students a chance to lease their textbooks, but this isn’t just a quasi-library system.  Barnes & Noble is attempting to recover lost profit through an innovative method, and they are saying their program is unique in that it offers students the chance to complete the textbook rental online.  Regardless of whether they claim the premiership, one thing is obvious – they didn’t come up with the idea.  To that end, they are not the only ones utilizing the World Wide Web.

Chegg.com is generally accepted as the forerunner in the textbook rental arena, and is credited as the concept creator.  Started in 2003 as an online classified ad for textbooks, the company began their rental service in 2007.  Their website estimates that they have saved students over $140 million off the “list price of new books.”

Chegg is certainly catering to its demographic.  For every book rented, sold, or purchased on their site, they plant a tree through a partnership with American Forests; their Affiliate Program pays students a commission for referring their friends to the site; and, more recently, they promised to donate to the Haitian relief effort through UNICEF.  A company that has brilliant marketing technique and is socially-responsible?  I never knew we could have both.

So how does Barnes & Noble compete with that?  They don’t.  Even though their participation has brought more coverage to the textbook rental concept, it is still apparent that Barnes & Noble merely jumped on board a thriving vessel in an effort to catch up.  By refusing to cooperate on the textbook cost issue in years gone by, they missed an opportunity to become an industry leader.  Regardless, Chegg has certainly countered the competition with some interesting tactics.

While I do not believe that textbook rental is merely a fad, I still don’t think it is for me right now.  Years ago, as an undergrad, I might have leased my books with the best of them.  Now, as a graduate student, many of my texts will be useful as references throughout my professional career.

Sites like Chegg have proven that this is not a passing phase, but a growing industry.  While I do not think that textbook purchases will stop completely, I applaud these renters for creating options for students everywhere.  This is certainly the wave of the future.  (Although I’m not sure that we’ll see Judy renting her books in a reunion episode of The Jetsons.)

At any rate, I believe congratulations are in order.  Well done to those who, as I said in August, used the power of the purse to impact change.  Huzzah, Twenty Somethings, Huzzah.

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3 Comments
  1. Mason permalink
    March 16, 2010 1:03 pm

    Great Artricle and wanted to share of a textbook rental site which allows you to rent textbooks and buy used. With the combination of renting and buying used, I was able to save over $300 on my textbook cost.

    Check it out http://www.textbookstop.com — What can you save?

  2. Julienne permalink
    March 19, 2010 12:39 pm

    Thanks for sharing!

    How long have you been renting? Was this your first go at it?

  3. August 6, 2010 11:56 am

    Thanks Mason! I like TextbookStop They had most of the books that I wanted, and I like that I could buy the ones that I will need for more than one semester…

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