Students Go to School on Textbook Rentals

Discussion
Aug 24, 2010
George Anderson

By George Anderson

Paying for a college education is expensive enough, so why
not look to cut costs wherever possible? That appears to be the motivation
driving an increase in textbook rentals on campuses across the U.S.

According
to a report by The New Haven Register, students can rent a
book for a semester at a fraction of the price of purchasing it. Interestingly
enough, the move to rentals hasn’t appeared to have financially hurt college
bookstores.

Larry Gal, manager of Southern Connecticut State University’s
bookstore, said students are pleasantly surprised to find they can rent a $100
textbook for as little as $23.

"We thought our sales would be down, but we’re actually moving
more product," Andrew Tranquilli, manager of the Quinnipiac University
bookstore, told the Register. "Some people won’t buy textbooks
and for once we’re offering" options.

At this point, roughly 35
percent of textbooks at Quinnipiac are available for rental. Those made available
for rental are ones that professors have chosen to use for long periods of
time. Those without a track record still need to be purchased.

Discussion Questions: Do you see textbook rentals growing? Are there other
categories of products that are primarily sales driven where you see a rental
business opportunity?

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13 Comments on "Students Go to School on Textbook Rentals"


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Max Goldberg
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

The prices of textbooks are beyond reality. This is a category screaming for competition. That’s why we’ve seen textbook rentals and used textbook sales take off. The next logical step will be to have textbooks to be available electronically. There is no reason why textbooks should cost $800 per semester at college.

Dick Seesel
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

As the parent of two college students and a recent grad, I can certainly see the merits of innovative business models designed to drive down the exorbitant cost of new textbooks. And as a college-level instructor, I also encourage my students to find cost-effective ways to study the textbook that I use. (Not reading it isn’t an option.) Textbook rentals are just one option, along with several online retailers (Amazon and others) who sell new and used texts at a discount. Perhaps the biggest trend to watch for is the growing popularity of e-versions, which offer not only significant savings but also the portability of a laptop, iPad or e-reader. The “cash cow” of traditional (and overpriced) textbooks is a threatened business model, and none too soon.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

It is not only a question of renting; hopefully it is a question of e-books. The sooner we drive down the cost of text books the better off we will be. It is over 30 years since I graduated and only once or twice did I ever go back to a text book that I had bought.

Once you learn the knowledge from most courses, you will never need the text book again and most likely by the time you graduate the information will no longer be of any value–and if it is, the way it is presented in text books has no real value.

Ben Ball
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

I share Richards’ situation with current students and recent grads, though I am not a professor. The vast majority of class notes, supplemental reading and other communication my students receive is already electronic. The time for an electronic text book model is definitely here.

But electronic delivery alone will not address one of the other big cost drivers–professors who require students to buy their own book (latest edition of course) for the class. And who revise the “Forward” or something else minor once a year to make sure the new book sales revenue (and royalties) keep coming.

Susan Rider
Guest
Susan Rider
10 years 8 months ago

This is an idea that missed its mark. Probably would have snowballed and been great if it started 15 years ago. Textbooks are dinosaurs and are about to become extinct. Digital formats are the future.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

Not a long-term phenomenon. People who rent textbooks must not have heard that you can sell used books on Amazon….

Lee Peterson
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

Textbooks? You mean iPad downloads? The future of reading is in the palm of your hand.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

It amazes me that textbooks have become so expensive. I guess the price was in sync with the cost of tuition. One goes up in price and the other parts follow accordingly.

This is going to be an overdue welcome, but a short-lived change. The industry needs competition. Something like this, or even more competition might have made this beneficial many years ago. Now we will see how the amazon.coms, etc, go after this business and make it profitable for everyone but the college bookstores. How expensive can it be for the amazons to put textbooks on their readers or iPads?

Gene Detroyer
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

Forty years ago I bought a used textbook and then sold it back to the bookstore. Wasn’t that like renting it?

Textbook rental is a mere and short-term alternative. All the textbooks I use in my classes are available as eBooks. The eBooks cost about 50% of the textbooks. The eBooks can also be “rented” for less, if a student chooses online access for a limited period of time.

Textbook publishers also offer teaching professors the option of designing custom textbooks for their classes as eBooks. The professor indicates what part of what books and articles they want to be included and the publisher makes them available as a single eBook to the students.

If textbook rental is really a new phenomenon, it will be over before it gets started. Technology will deliver a better product.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

“…years ago I bought a used textbook and then sold it back to the bookstore. Wasn’t that like renting it?”

Precisely. And for those who think e-books are a “solution,” I’m not so sure: I believe a limited market and high royalties are the driving force behind these exorbitant costs more than the actual printing costs; and of course, even at 50%, an $85 textbook would still be $42.50.

But that’s fine: grousing about book costs was one of those college bonding moments that we could all experience without having to risk being arrested.

Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
10 years 8 months ago

Jewelry, formal wear, gowns, kitchen equipment, big-screen TVs, cars, lawn care equipment, homes–consumers are willing to rent plenty of products. And textbooks make a perfect addition to the list, especially given their high cost.

There are still many goods where the consumer will want to own the product permanently. But sometimes just owning something for a few days, weeks or months fits the need. And given the new value mindset that’s emerged thanks to the recession, this type of transaction fits well with consumer’s more frugal lifestyles. It also has a nice green element in helping reduce product waste. For merchants, it’s definitely a change in business operations, but one that may help generate long-term loyalty via short-term rentals.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
10 years 8 months ago

Nope, don’t see it growing. Earlier comments about e-books are dead on as long as the professors cooperate. And, I’m guessing they’ll be forced to cooperate.

In this light, consider school books for high schools and below. The huge dilemma reported this year regarding Texas’s dominance of book content could be a thing of the past. You know the drill: Texas buys more school books than anyone, so publishers economize by selling the Texas version to everyone else. Other states object to the content, but they have no choice. E-books at the college level will trickle downward. Every state gets their own version. No more heavy books in the backpack, no more sharing books at school, and no more having to leave the books at school.

Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
10 years 8 months ago

Keeping costs down for textbooks is important for so many families. Educating professors as to the actual cost of the textbook is essential so that appropriate choices can be offered to students. I have seen universities require books that were rarely used.

James Madison University in Virginia recently offered the option of renting books and my son readily pointed out the cost advantages to me. Rented books need to be returned on time at the end of the semester or there are additional charges. E-books and used books will also continue to increase competition.

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