College students at apartments in Blacksburg, VA have become more discerning about how they obtain textbooks.
During the last school year, a calculus book could have cost about $138 at the campus bookstore. Instead, renters paid $88 to rent it from the store for the semester — and turned it in after the final exam.
It is noticeably more to buy. The idea of renting textbooks and just handing them back is very appealing to many.
Costs for textbooks and related course materials remain significant — 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. But new alternatives, like renting books and downloading “open source” course documents, are helping to keep costs manageable.
The National Association of College Stores said its research showed that spending on course materials, including textbooks, was about $638 a year. Purchases still outpace rentals, but rentals are gaining in popularity, the association says.
In the last 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. A small but growing proportion said they only rented textbooks.
Some students say renting has potential downsides. For instance, you don’t have a chance to recoup any money by reselling the volume. With buying, you may get some money back.
But others caution against betting on getting a lot of your money back by reselling a textbook. Often, new editions render last year’s version much less valuable.