Retailers Creating Textbook Rental Programs

By CityTownInfo.com Staff
July 17, 2009

In an effort to keep costs down for college students, some retailers are experimenting with textbook rentals.

The Grand Rapids Press reports that the bookstore at Michigan's Grand Rapids Community College will take part in a pilot program this fall which will allow students to rent textbooks which typically sell for as much as $100 each. The plan is being tried in six of 860 Follett Higher Education Group college bookstores throughout the country.

The book rental program will allow students to rent a new or used textbook for 42.5 percent of the retail price, rather than paying the full price for purchase or returning it at the end of the semester for 50 percent back. To qualify for rental, the book must be returned at the end of the semester in reasonably good condition, although highlighting and underlining passages are permitted.

According to store manager Hailey Mabrito, about 20 percent of the textbooks will be available for rental. "We expect it's going to be popular," she noted. "Everybody is looking to save money, and we think this is something our students are going to appreciate."

The University of Texas at Arlington and the University of North Texas in Denton will also take part in the pilot program, reports the Fort Worth Star Telegram. But according to Bruce Hildebrand of the Association of American Publishers, the plan's success will depend on whether professors decide to use the same book for at least two years.

"Once you pass that barrier, it's got significant potential," he said.

Charles Schmidt, of the Ohio-based National Association of College Stores, agreed. "You've got to make sure the professors are on board," he told the Grand Rapids Press, "because they need to use the same books for about two years to make it work, and that can be difficult. And it works best for those large introductory level classes, where the store will need hundreds of books. For that upper-level British literature of the Elizabethan era class with a dozen students, it's not going to work."

The move toward textbook rentals comes as more states and colleges have made efforts to lower textbook fees for students. Follett spokesman Elio DiStaola noted that if the plan is successful, the company could expand the numbers of stores and titles of books by January.

In a related story, The New York Times reports that Chegg.com--an online textbook rental service--has become extremely profitable, netting over $10 million in January alone.

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