The Latest Scoop on Renting Textbooks

It’s hard keeping up with the changes sweeping the textbook industry, which is why I asked Colin Barceloux, the founder of BookRenter, about a hot trend –  renting textbooks. Here is a Q&A with Barceloux, who created his company as a student at Santa Clara University after he began collecting discarded textbooks on his campus.
Can you speak about some of the recent trends in textbook rental?
As students realize that access trumps ownership when it comes to course materials, textbook rental has grown explosively in higher education. Not only does renting save students about 80% off the cost of textbooks, but it spares them the hassle of textbook buyback.
One thing that we’re really excited about is the way that technology can now support local shopping at the college store. We’re taking our service straight to students on campus at more than 500 universities – so they can comparison shop and rent their books conveniently at their college store.
Why should people rent textbooks vs buy used ones?
With many rental companies, you have the option to buy out the rental for the cost of a book. You can’t undo a purchase of a book. So, start by renting the book, and if you decide you want to keep it, you can buy out the rental at any time. Just make sure the rental provider you choose has a service guarantee that protects you from paying more than the retail price for a book.
Sometimes it is beneficial to own a book you think you will use again and again, but the real value of a textbook is in how it is structured for a particular course. For basic review after a course is completed, sites like Khan Academy or Study Blue are valuable for reviewing key concepts. The truth is that very few students report using a textbook after a class concludes. If you don’t need to own the book, rent it. You can still highlight it just as if you owned it, and you’ll save a ton of money.
How can students shop for the best deals whether rentals or purchase?
We always recommend comparison-shopping. The important thing is to find the right combination of price, convenience and speed. Start with your college store website. Many college stores offer rental either in store or on their website.  You can also try comparison sites like Cheapest Textbooks, Big Words, or Direct Textbook that allow you to see deals from multiple sites. Remember to factor shipping in to your calculations or choose a service like BookRenter that offers purchase and rental together with free shipping both ways.
What’s your take on the move toward renting textbooks with e-readers including the new development with the Kindle Store which is offering rentals of tens of thousands of books.
We think it’s great. It really shows how people’s ideas are shifting from saying, “I need to own this book” to “I need access to this book.” Right now, most electronic textbooks are little more than a scanned textbook, and our students tell us that when a physical textbook and an electronic textbook are similar in price, they’d rather have the physical textbook. As electronic textbooks evolve to a point where they offer a superior experience to a textbook, you will see us offer them for rental as well.
How are campus bookstores competing with outside sellers. Aren’t most campus book stores offering rentals now too?
Campus bookstores have to work really hard to win their students’ business now. Most stores are offering rental in one form or another as they have realized it’s all about giving students choices on textbooks.
Is the rise of book rentals — and can you quantify that ? — impacting the price of rentals as well as purchased books?
Rental has gained a lot of traction with students in the past three years. According to the National Association of College Stores, a year ago just 10% of students reported trying rental, now that number is more like 30%. We haven’t seen rental affect purchase prices for books per se, but it certainly exerts pressure on the market.
Why are textbooks so expensive?
That’s a really great question! The answer is pretty complex and one that only a publisher can truly answer. Here is a great link to a graphic that shows where the money goes when a textbook enters the market.
Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also writes college blogs for CBSMoneyWatch and US News & World Report. Follow her on Twitter.

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