Despite the growth of textbook rentals, a book shopping website found that students save more money by the traditional method of buying and selling back textbooks.
Buying and selling back textbooks online on average saved students 95 percent compared to renting, according to a recent study by bigwords.com, a website dedicated to finding the cheapest prices for textbooks. By comparing the rates of buying and selling textbooks with the rental rates in the Spring 2012 semester, researchers at the online company found that students saved an average of $1,000 per year by buying and selling back books, said Jeff Sherwood, founder of bigwords.com.
“It is really a wash when you are renting versus purchasing a new book, assuming the book is adopted for another term,” said Brian Burtram, the associate director of Duke University Stores. “There’s an idea that renting saves you money, but it doesn’t save you much.”
He noted that even though the average price for a rental book is 50 percent of the price of purchasing, there are late penalty fees associated with the rental option, and buying back may be a more cost-effective option. If the Textbook Store is selling the book for the next semester, the buyback price for that book is half of the sale price. He added that if the book is not being used the next semester, the store buys the book back at about 30 percent of the new price. Burtram noted that few students at the University rent textbooks, adding that in the past few semesters, the University Store averaged approximately 75 rentals. If professors are not planning to use a textbook for more than one semester, renting would be the better option for students as their cost of usage is less, he said.
“We try to select books for rental that are new editions, have higher prices and have high estimated enrollments,” he said. “We average approximately 10 titles per term.”
But Sherwood found that students spend an average of $30 a year on textbooks buying and selling online. He added that by renting students only save approximately 60 percent of annual textbook expenses.
There is a national effort to increase textbook rental programs on university campuses, Butram noted—an attempt to provide cost-saving measures that could help reduce the financial burden on students.
“[The University] hopes to expand rental options in the near future by partnering with an external company that essentially underwrites the rental cost,” he said. “Once we expand beyond the 10 or so titles we generally can offer, we expect demand for this option to increase.”
Butram noted that despite the tendency to view rentals as the cheaper method, that notion is merely a customer expectation. In reality, the rental method will still be a savings wash for students renting books which are used in subsequent semesters, Burtram said.
But some students noted that price is not always the main factor in selecting a method for purchasing textbooks.
“I buy my books from the Textbook Store because I like knowing that they’ll be at Duke when the semester starts and not before,” junior Diane Shen said. “I like being able to pick them up on my schedule.”