Archive for January, 2011

Debunking the Rental Myth


College students (and their parents) find out about the high prices of textbooks the hard way. Discovering methods to save money is a steep and expensive learning curve. Increasingly, students simply go without, either because they can’t afford the books, or they chose to gamble on getting by on borrowing or reserved library texts.

For those that do try to buy, downright insulting buyback prices at most campus bookstores offer no real return on students’ textbook investments. In contrast, textbook rental sites that rent books by the semester get textbooks in hands for 20% to 50% cheaper than buying a used version, even from online retailers.

But technology has changed and online stores are increasingly offering many times more for buybacks. Are rental sites a good deal, or are students just paying for convenience?

Anyone getting a Bachelors of Science degree will likely take an entry-level biology class, even if they are going into another field.  Microbiology: An Introduction (10th edition) is an entry-level text that lists for around $170 but can be found as low as $107 new online. Used, eBay offers the book for $60 with free shipping.

Now let’s look at the rental options. has the best rental price, coming in at $53.75 to rent for a 130 day semester. It’s not a lot cheaper than buying used, but savings are savings.

That is until you factor in that the $60 textbook from eBay would be yours to sell back at the end of the semester. Even a campus bookstore will likely pay you more than the $6 difference you paid to buy instead of rent.  However, if you happen to look around the web, you might find that is offering $77.91 for a “good condition” used version of Microbiology: An Introduction. So, when all of the math is done, that freshman can either be out $54 on his rental book, or up $18 after selling it back online.

Just like any market, there are ebbs and flows with buyback prices as supply and demand fluctuate with the school year. These buyback prices are for the beginning of the semester, when there’s still a high demand. The savvy student will hold onto their textbooks (their assets) until demand is high again to make a profit 

So why are students renting?

Doing the research and coming out profitable (or at least in less debt) requires a long-term perspective that many students lack.  It takes more research and a little bit of number crunching, but there’s a tangible pay-off, like any good investment. If students and parents can shift their perspective and see textbooks as an investment like any other, instead of hinging on convenience and a time-crunch, they can save hundreds each year. 


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