As Textbook Prices Soar, Websites Offer Rentals

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After college students pay tuition, room, and board — textbooks are often the next biggest expense. And even a used textbook can sometimes cost more than $100.

“Just the other day, I bought a health psychology book. It’s worth almost $150,” says Paul Cheng, a junior Psychology and Philosophy major at Ohio State University. Cheng estimates he spends about $300 to $400 every quarter on textbooks.

Charell Albert is a senior Human Development and Family Sciences major at OSU. She says she spends about $300 a quarter on books – and she can’t always afford it.

“Sometimes, I can’t even get every book,” says Albert.

When she doesn’t have enough money to buy the textbook for a class, Albert says she has to improvise.

“Usually the teacher may have it on reserve, or I’ll borrow it from another student,” says Albert.

But now students have another option: they can rent their textbooks online. California-based websites like Bookrenter.com and Chegg.com now offer quarter and semester-long textbook rentals, at a fraction of what it costs to buy the book.

For example, an introductory biology textbook costs over $180 new and $135 used at the Ohio State Bookstore’s website. Bookrenter.com rents the same book for about $35 a quarter. That’s about 75% off the used price, and more than 80% off the new price.

Bookrentals.com founder Colin Barceloux says buying a textbook and then selling it back is nothing more than an expensive rental. He says his company provides the same service, but for less money.

“Especially in an economy like today, when everyone’s trying to save an extra buck, rentals are a great way to do that,” says Barceloux.

Barceloux says book rentals are a popular option for students who know about it – but that’s the problem.

“You know, honestly, the biggest challenge for us right now, is just letting people know we exist,” says Barceloux.

Right now, Bookrenter.com has about 60,000 customers, and Barceloux says textbook rentals are the fastest growing segment within the textbook market.

But local bookstores don’t seem too worried about textbook rentals cutting into their sales. Kevin Doenges is the store manager at UBX Book Exchange on High Street. He says he sees their biggest competition elsewhere.

“I feel like the online sales are a bigger impact than online rentals,” says Doenges.

Toby Weisend is the store manager at Collegetown, which also sells textbooks. Weisand says Collegetown already competes in the two major textbook markets – storefront and online. He says they have no immediate plans at his location to move into textbook rentals. But Weisand says he is monitoring the trend.

“I think it is something that’s intriguing, and over time it will be interesting to see how it really plays into the textbook market. But I haven’t seen it hurt or help sales one way or the other,” says Weisand.

The US Government Accounting Office says the textbook industry netted over $10 billion last year.

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