New Tools Are Helping Students Rent Textbooks to Save Money

Posted By Terri Williams on July 6, 2015 at 11:51 am
New Tools Are Helping Students Rent Textbooks to Save Money

Purchasing college textbooks is usually a guessing game. If it’s mandatory for a particular class, you have to get it. But should you add the book to your personal library, or sell it after the class ends? The unfortunate truth is, most college students build their libraries using books that they no longer need but couldn’t sell back – or books that had a sellback price that barely covered the shipping cost.

CampusBooks, a textbook comparison website, recently created a tool that it hopes will help make the rent-or-buy decision-making process more accurate. Before launching their tool, the company surveyed students and discovered that 85% of students purchase textbooks. However, a full 35% of students do not feel they are paid what the books are worth when they try to sell them. A potential solution for this problem, CampusBooks’ “Buy vs. Rent” algorithm helps students determine if they will get the best value from purchasing or renting a book.

The Buy vs. Rent tool factors in metrics like:

  • Side-by-side price comparison: A chart displays the book’s price, the buyback price, and the condition of the book, along with the rental cost of the same book.
  • Historic buyback prices: Using the book’s serial number, CampusBooks creates a linear chart that shows the day-by-day price of the book
  • Purchasing questionnaire: Students are asked a series of questions to personalize the process. For example, if a student only needs a book for 60 days, the rental price would be cheaper than it would be for 120 days. If a student is concerned about the environment, he or she may prefer the idea of recycling textbooks. If a student prefers to take notes in books, they may prefer to buy, since materials need to be returned in good condition.
  • recommendation: Using past sale trends, the site suggests the best option for each textbook

Consumer Affairs also has weighed in on the textbook rental discussion.

Increased interest in renting

A new study by OnCampus Research reveals that 40.4% of students rented at least one college textbook in the fall semester of 2014, which is a 100% increase from fall of 2011. The report also reveals that most students purchase and rent textbooks from their campus bookstore:

  • 68% purchase books from their campus store
  • 49% rent books from their campus store
  • 48% purchase books from Amazon
  • 28% rent books from Amazon
  • 8% purchase books from Chegg
  • 19% rent books from Chegg

Chegg is a textbook and student services company – in fall 2015, it will also take over the textbook center at Bowdoin College. The college plans to use the newly freed-up space to house an updated IT space. Similarly, Amazon has exclusive campus program partnerships with Purdue University, the University of California at Davis, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Barnes and Noble is also popular among schools that outsource bookstore operations.

Perhaps surprisingly, the OnCampus Research survey also reveals that printed material is still the most popular form of textbook:

  • 7% of students prefer either digital or print/digital bundles
  • 31% of students prefer printed material
  • 24% of students say it depends on the class

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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