Make us your home page
Instagram

Textbooks: Buy or rent?

Textbooks and related course materials cost about $1,200 a year, according to the College Board. And the cost of new hard-copy textbooks continues to rise, according to a 2013 report from the Government Accountability Office. But new alternatives, such as renting books and downloading "open source" course documents, are helping to keep costs manageable.

The National Association of College Stores said purchases outpace rentals but rentals are gaining in popularity. In the most recent academic semester, more than a third of students rented at least one textbook — whether from the campus bookstore or from online options like Chegg.com or Amazon — up from about a quarter the year before, said Elizabeth Riddle, who heads campus research for the association. A small but growing proportion said they only rented textbooks.

"Students have more options than ever before," said Nicole Allen, director of open education at the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition.

Some students say renting has potential downsides. For instance, with renting, you don't have a chance to recoup any of your money by reselling the volume when you no longer need it.

But others caution against betting on getting a lot of your money back by reselling your textbook. Often, new editions of textbooks render last year's version much less valuable. Another factor weighing on the resale value of used books is that many textbooks come with online supplements that require special access codes. But the codes are typically valid only for the initial purchaser. That means buyers of a used version might not be able to obtain the extra materials.

Renting digital textbooks is also an option. But right now, the economics of digital publishing mean that electronic texts can often be more expensive, said Dan Rosensweig, CEO of Chegg. The average e-textbook the site rents is 25 percent more expensive than its average rental. That will probably change as the transition from print to digital progresses.

Here are some questions about renting college textbooks:

How should I decide whether to rent or buy a textbook?

As with any purchase, you should shop around and compare prices, both at your campus bookstore and through online booksellers. If you're short on cash, renting is usually the cheapest option upfront, said Jeff Cohen, CEO of Campusbooks.com, an online price comparison service (a sort of Kayak for college textbooks). But the type of course you are taking also matters. If you are taking a multisemester course like physics, which is typically taught over at least two semesters, it could be cheaper to buy the book. Also, if a book is closely related to your intended career, you might want to own a copy for future reference.

You should look beyond your campus bookstore, although its location is likely convenient.

Are there any reasons not to rent?

If you tend to be careless, you might think twice about renting a hard copy because there could be fees for damage from stains. And as with any rental, you will want to make sure you return the book on time; otherwise, you could have to pay overdue fees or even end up paying the full purchase price, depending on how late the book is returned.

How can I be sure I'm renting or buying the right textbook?

Students should obtain the book's specific identification number, or ISBN. Colleges are supposed to list the number in their course catalogs, so students can obtain it at the time of registration.

Textbooks: Buy or rent? 08/15/14 [Last modified: Sunday, August 17, 2014 9:37pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, New York Times.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Shares in Tampa's Health Insurance Innovations rebound from stronger earnings report

    Corporate

    TAMPA — After a sharp drop in its stock price in August and September, Health Insurance Innovations on Monday announced strong revenue and net income gains in preliminary numbers for its third quarter of the year. The company also announced a $50 million stock buyback over the next two years meant to bolster its …

    After losing more than half its market value between August and September, shares in Tampa's Health Insurance Innovations are rebounding."The new share repurchase program underscores our confidence in our business strategy, financial performance, and the long-term prospects of our company while also allowing us the financial flexibility to continue to invest in our business," company CEO Gavin Southwell announced Monday. [Courtesy of LinkedIn]
  2. Trigaux: Campaign aims to leverage tourism ads to recruit millennials, businesses

    Economic Development

    TAMPA — Tampa Bay's unleashing one of its best weapons — a cadre of successful entrepreneurs and young business leaders — in a marketing campaign already under way but officially …

    Erin Meagher, founder of Tampa coconut oil products company Beneficial Blends, is part of a group of business savvy millennial entrepreneurs and managers who are helping to pitch the work-live-play merits of the Tampa Bay market in a new marketing campaign called Make It Tampa Bay. The campaign is backed by Visit Tampa Bay and the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. and aimed at recruiting more millennial talent to relocate and stay in the Tampa Bay area. [Courtesy Tampa Hillsborough EDC, Visit Tampa Bay]
  3. Florida gas prices drop 25 cents on average over past month

    Autos

    Gas prices are on a downward tear post-hurricane. Tampa Bay fell to $2.34 per gallon on Sunday, down 10 cents over the week, according to AAA, The Auto Club Group. Across the state, gas fell 7 cents over the same period to average $2.47 per gallon.

    Gas prices across the state fell 25 cents over 31 days. | [Times file photo]
  4. Entrepreneur expands interests with Twisted Crafts

    Business

    SOUTH TAMPA — Playgrounds of Tampa owner Mike Addabbo is expanding into the do-it-yourself industry with his new endeavor: Twisted Crafts.

     Jennifer and Michael Addabbo pose in their latest entrepreneurial enterprise: Twisted Crafts. Photo courtesy of Twisted Craft.
  5. Amazing Lash franchise expands to South Tampa

    Business

    SOUTH TAMPA — Jeff Tolrud opened the doors to his third Amazing Lash Studio franchise earlier this month, this time in South Tampa.

    When customers walk in, the studios have the same look and feel throughout the country, operator Jeff Tolrud said of Amazing Lash Studio. Tolrud opened his third in Hillsborough County earlier this month. Photo courtesy of Amazing Lash.