Textbook Companies Turn to Rentals

In the face of sinking retail sales, textbook companies are turning to an old concept for a new system: rentals. With the advent of electronic books, improved and more readily accessible study guides, and the economic recession, textbook manufacturers have found their consumers noticeably timid to shell-out money for standard textbook purchases. While used textbooks have been popular for decades, new technology has made purchasing used textbooks easier, and has also offered students additional alternatives to buying new textbooks. Though the idea of renting textbooks is certainly not new, healthy demand for purchasing new textbooks made the jump to rentals unnecessary; until now.

Online textbook rental websites, such as Chegg and Bookrenter.com have rented textbooks to students for the past few years; however, as the New York Times recently reported, industry giants such as Cengage Learning and McGraw-Hill have announced that they will now offer a rental option for textbooks. Bookrenter, founded in 2006, claims to be the first online book rental store. With a user-friendly interface reminiscent of more mainstream booksellers, Bookrenter pledges in its mission statement to “reinvent the traditional bookstore by providing a convenient, cost effective alternative to retail book sales.” It would seem that we are now witnessing this transformation in the textbook industry 3 years later. Cengage rentals already offer textbooks at prices as low as 40% the price of a standard retail purchase.

Textbook rentals are now even making the jump to physical bookstores. Barnes and Noble is testing out a textbook rental program at hundreds of college campus bookstores. Hundreds more college bookstores have announced similar rental programs. While textbook manufacturers would rather sell books at standard retail prices, rental programs could significantly boost revenue lost through resold textbooks. When a student purchases a textbook, and subsequently chooses to sell the book used, the textbook’s publisher only profits off of the initial purchase. Used textbooks can circulate for years, without publishers ever seeing any more profits than the initial purchase. However, with rentals, textbook publishers and authors can repeatedly profit through rentals of the same copy of a textbook. The government has even become involved, with millions of dollars pledged towards textbook rental programs through the Higher Education Opportunity Act. Indeed, the recent move to rentals should soon find students happy with lower book costs, and publishers happier with steady profits.