Textbook rentals reveal cheaper options, industry of profit

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Austin Sting

The University of Wisconsin found that the average bookstore marked-up textbook prices by 17.5 to 25 percent.

Greg Bokar, News Editor

During August, the largest online store in the world, Seattle based Amazon.com, announced plans that would allow customers to begin renting textbooks through its online store. The new service offered by Amazon is added to a list of growing options for Case Western Reserve University students when it comes to acquiring textbooks for classes.

College textbook prices have been rising in recent years along with the price of a college education. The Student Monitor reported that the average college student spent over $600 on textbooks during the 2010-2011 school year. At CWRU, this would be added to the cost of $40,120 for full-time tuition.

The report by the Student Monitor also stated that textbook rentals make up about 10 percent of the share of textbook sales each semester and cost an average of $32 per book. At the same time, new textbooks make up the largest share of textbook prices and cost $163 on average.

About 40 percent of students reported not purchasing all required textbooks, citing mainly the absorbent expense. The cost of textbooks is often in addition to required online course materials, such as programs like Aplia.com, which can cost almost $100 per course.

A search of the university bookstore’s website found that purchasing a new textbook for BIOL 121 costs $221 on campus but is only $184 on Amazon. Textbook discount site Chegg.com listed the book new for only $136.99.

The bookstore, which bears the name of Barnes and Noble on its exterior, also lists books at prices that are significantly higher than the actual Barnes and Noble website.

For example, the textbook required for ACCT 102 is listed new for $243.80 at the bookstore, but it is only $192.62 on bn.com, the website for Barnes and Noble. Therefore, Barnes and Noble is listing books at its different retailers for a more than $50 difference, a price that would take an Ohio student earning minimum wage about seven hours to recoup.

Textbook rental services, which are available through a variety of courses including the CWRU bookstore, offer a good alternative to new textbook prices and are a growing industry amongst textbook distributors. Nevertheless, students run a risk when renting a book in the case of damage or loss.

According to the CWRU bookstore website, “The bookstore can refuse to accept your rental book if it is not returned in good condition.”

“Good condition will be judged by the bookstore alone, and generally means book spine intact, no excessive damage to cover or contents, all original pages intact, all original components present, and no excessive highlighting, writing or other markings,” the disclaimer continues.

Professor R. Preston McAfee, a California Tech professor and author of a commonly used microeconomics textbook, made a public statement in 2008 that caught national attention when he compared the textbook industry to drug companies. In a statement, Professor McAfee said, “The doctor who requires a medication and the professor who requires a textbook don’t have to bear the cost and thus usually don’t think twice about it.”

A Program Review issued by the University of Wisconsin entitled “Textbooks Cost in Higher Education” examined the textbook industry as a whole and the cost to publishers and booksellers. According to the review, textbooks are sold at an established price across the industry to booksellers. From there, bookstores mark up the books based upon what their market can bear. Therefore, markets with minimal competition can charge higher prices than more competitive markets, like those of online retailers.

According to the review, the average bookstore involved in the study marked-up textbooks by 17.5 to 25 percent.