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Renting vs. Buying Textbooks: Which Will Cost You Less Money? [INFOGRAPHIC]

As college tuition continues to rise and students take on an increasing amount of loans, it’s essential that students save wherever possible. Like college tuition, textbook prices have risen steadily over the last two decades and they are becoming one of the biggest financial burdens on students. In fact, between 1990 and 2009, textbook prices rose at four times the rate of inflation. In 2010 alone, the average student spent almost $1,200 on textbooks, including all books and media required for a class. To provide students cheaper access to their books, companies like Chegg, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble have began offering the option to rent, instead of buy, textbooks. While renting can be a great option for certain books, is it always economically smart for students to rent instead of buy? Students should weigh their options before deciding to rent.


Buying and Reselling

It’s most important to note that the price of new or used textbooks can be offset through buyback programs at the end of the semester. Vendors tend to sell textbooks back into the market at 75% of the book’s new retail price, regardless of whether the owner initially bought them new or used. Because of this, buying a textbook and selling it when you finish using it can cost you less money in the long run than renting the book. In fact, on average buying a used textbook and selling it at the end of the term costs students 29% less than renting the book.

Let’s look at a case study: a new retail copy of Marketing Management by Kotler & Keller cost $246, while the average price of the book used was $118. It’s important to note, however, that the book resold during buyback for an average of $83, making the net cost of the new textbook $163 and the used $35. On the other hand, renting Marketing Management cost, on average, $57. It turns out that, when considering buyback, both buying used and renting the book cost students much less than buying it new. Overall, buying the book used and participating in buyback was the cheapest option.

While purchasing a used textbook at lower price than a new one can increase your return upon buyback, certain factors limit the market for used textbooks. First, it’s important that faculty agree to use the same version of a book year to year. Otherwise, your version of the textbook will be stripped of its value by the end of the term. Next, materials must be chosen early enough for retailers to secure the used texts. Finally, enough books must be purchased new and sold back in order to supply the used market.

Besides cost, certain factors make buying the smartest option for students:

  • You intend to keep the book past the end of the term
  • You make a lot of marks in the text
  • You’re prone to losing or damaging books
  • You don’t want to deal with shipping books back to renters at the end of the term


Renting a Smart Option for Certain Students

Despite the benefits of buying and reselling, renting textbooks can be a good option for certain students. Between 2009 and 2010 alone there was a 500% increase in the number of textbook rentals. Rental textbooks often cost students 50% less up front than buying textbooks since rented books cost between 33% and 55% of the price of a new printed text. Renting is also flexible, since students almost always have the option to convert their rental into a purchase at any point during the term. While renting books, students must be extra careful, though: additional charges will be made if students return books with excessive markup, if they return books late, or if they lose the book or any supplemental materials like DVDs.

In the end, certain factors make renting textbooks the smartest option for certain students:

  • You cannot front the extra cost of buying a textbook up front, and would rather not have to wait for your money to be returned at buyback
  • Depending on resale prices makes you nervous; you’d rather have a hedge against price fluctuations
  • You don’t need the textbook longterm
  • You’d prefer to return your textbooks using your provider’s shipping label rather than deal with finding the best buyback deals


Rent or Buy: What’s the Best Option for You?

If you are a proactive type and you can see yourself getting around to reselling your books at the end of the term, buying and reslling is a viable option for you to consider. When you receive your required book lists, visit sites like BookFinder.com, BookScouter.com and Barnes and Noble (yes, Barnes and Noble offers great buyback prices!) to gain an idea of how much your book might sell back for at the end of the term, and subtract those prices from the price you’d pay to purchase the book new or used. Compare the net prices to what it’d cost to rent the textbook and use those numbers to influence your decision to rent or buy. On the other hand, if you are not likely to put in the effort to resell your books, renting might be the cheapest option for you.

But wait: when it comes to finding your textbooks, there may be a way for you to find your book for free. Students who took a class before you may be willing to lend you their used books. If you don’t know anyone with the textbook at hand, however, you might be able to rent the book from your school’s or your city’s library. This is a great option for students taking classes that use books for only a few weeks at a time, such as literature classes. Even if your school doesn’t offer the textbook you need, there’s a chance your school can rent the book for you (for free!) from another institution through an interlibrary loan program. Keep in mind, though, that borrowing from libraries requires a lot of careful timing and reading your course syllabus like a Bible!

And remember, college students: once you get your hands on your books, make sure to open them and do at least a little work.

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