Students Look to Save by Renting Textbooks

Photo: Many students have started to rent textbooks from stores such as Ned's Books, which began its textbook rental program this semester.
Shirin Ghaffary/Staff
Many students have started to rent textbooks from stores such as Ned's Books, which began its textbook rental program this semester.

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Where's the textbook cheaper?

Denise Poon finds out whether or not her Anthropology textbook is cheaper at Ned's or the ASUC Student Store.

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Alyssa Reyes is in a situation familiar to many fourth-year students: she's trying to finish up her breadth requirements before graduation. She is also in a situation all students can relate to, regardless of year: she's trying to find the best deal for her textbooks.

Reyes said it made sense for her to rent the textbook for her Anthropology 1 course, her last breadth requirement, since she would not be needing the textbook beyond this semester.

Reyes is one of the many students who are taking advantage of rental programs to save money on textbooks. She originally wanted to use because, she said, it had better deals-but did not want to wait for shipping. She then looked to Ned's Books, which began a rental program this semester.

"I was basically looking for the best used price, and I saw the rental options, which were significantly cheaper than everything," she said. "And I realized that I wouldn't have any practical use for an Anthro book (after this semester)."

Although renting books is by no means a new idea, the Nebraska Book Company, which owns Ned's, implemented the rental system this past semester as part of a corporate-wide initiative.

"We've gotten a really positive response from students," said Kelly Gray, the general manager for Ned's. "In this economic time, it's really good for students."

According to Tina Couch, vice president of public relations for Chegg, rental books have become so popular that other companies have taken notice and started their own.

"We realized how expensive textbooks have become in the last few years, and we wanted to help students save money on textbooks," said Brad Heins, assistant to the vice president at the company. "More and more students are shopping online. We want to try to be more competitive with online booksellers."

The company is not the only nationwide bookstore corporation that has decided to take advantage of textbook rental programs. Follett Higher Education Group, which operates the UC Berkeley bookstore in partnership with the ASUC, piloted a rental program this fall and is looking to expand in the coming year, according to Elio DiStaola, director of public relations for Follett.

The program operated at seven campuses across the country in the fall and has expanded to 27 campuses this semester, he said.

"The back-to-school season was very positive," DiStaola said. "The results and feedback were so strong in the fall that we're already committed to a large-scale expansion for the fall of 2010."

The expansion entails an investment of more than $120 million to extend the program's reach to over 400 campus bookstores, according to DiStaola, and conversations to select campuses for the expansion have already begun. Though it is not certain that UC Berkeley will be one of them, he said he hopes the list will be finalized sometime in April.

Were the campus to become part of Follett's rental program, the business of renting books could become more competitive. Gray said although Ned's has an advantage by implementing a rental program before the student store, they would be competitors in the textbook-selling business regardless.

Scott Mehr, a temporary store manager at the Nebraska Book Company, added that, like any business, the student store responded to the new program at Ned's Books, and that Ned's in turn will simply have to figure out a way to counter it.

But Couch said that having other companies pick up on the rental program was actually good for business for Chegg.

"As a whole, it's raised awareness," she said. "(Students) didn't know that option was there before."

Textbook rentals may become a routine part of students' book-buying process in the future, but for Reyes, this will be the last time she will be needing to spend money to purchase textbooks.

"(Renting) seems to consolidate the whole buying and buying back process," she said. "(It) is much more practical and a better deal'."

Clarification: This article and the accompanying video should have mentioned that the Cal Student Store offers a "half-back guarantee" whereby students can earn back half the cost of the textbooks included in the program, if they are returned by the end of the semester.


Denise Poon covers local business. Contact her at [email protected]

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