Every year it seems as though the prices of textbooks keep rising, making them a considerable part of the average student’s semester budget. Some of the larger books can cost up to $300! And although buying used books is a cheaper alternative, many students today are choosing to go an even cheaper route by renting their books.
First off, it is important to note that it might not be in the best interest for students to rent all of their books. For instance, if a student is biology major it might very well be worth paying for a new or used biology textbook to have as a reference for the rest of their college career. Many schools have “buy back” options where at the end of the semester, students can sell their textbooks to the bookstore at a reduced price. Depending on the original price of the book and the condition it’s returned in, this may be worth it for some students. However, do not expect to get a very large return. As a fellow student I bought a $200 cell and molecular biology textbook, and at the end of the semester went to sell back – for $20! And that book was in near mint condition, but the bookstore only offered a 10% buyback price for a “good” condition book. I wonder what they would have offered me had it been a used book instead of new. I probably would have gotten nothing at all.
The price to rent a textbook varies depending on the vendor, the condition of the book (generally new books cost more to rent than used), and the length of time you wish to borrow. Some vendors have quality control policies in which you will pay a fee if, upon returning the book, it has been damaged. You can find deals to rent textbooks up to 80% off of its original price – so if it’s a $100 book, you’ll be paying $20 for the semester to rent it. In the end this might be a better option for students if the average return price for a book is under 20% of the buying price. Renting books can be a great alternative for students taking classes which require multiple textbooks, such as literature or English courses. The average literature course requires students to have copies of several books
Renting online these days is especially easy because of the sheer number of vendors and books available to rent. Thanks to competition with dozens of websites wanting your business, you can find great deals to rent books at reduced prices, especially if you’re willing to rent a gently used book. Hundreds, and even thousands, of students sell their used books online after the end of the semester making it easy for vendors to pick up books to then rent at an even more reduced price to future students.
Here is a quick list of pros and cons to summarize the different methods of purchasing books for school:
Pros: A brand new book, mint condition, has all the original paperwork and CDs that may have come with the book for a course. Generally new books are the “easiest” to find because they are in stock at many venues. It’s “your” textbook, meaning you can choose whether to resell it or keep it on your bookshelf.
Cons: Very pricey. Buying a brand new book will put a dent in your pocket that could cost you anywhere from $100 to $300 or more! And if you wish to sell the book back at the end of the semester, you might only get a 20-30% return on your investment. Do not expect to get more than half of what you paid for it originally.
Pros: Cheaper than buying new, and most reputable stores will not sell you books in tattered condition so most of the time you will get a textbook in decent shape. Many students try to sell their used textbooks online through Amazon, Facebook, or even Craigslist. The chances of finding the book you need are pretty good. Like buying new, the book is yours and you can choose what to do with it after the end of the semester.
Cons: You get what you pay for. If you choose to buy from a private seller rather than a reputable bookstore, be very specific when you ask about the book’s condition. “Slight water damage” in a description may translate to an entire chapter in the book ruined due to spilled coffee or soda. Used books might not come with the CD/software that is often included in many textbooks, especially those for certain math and science courses.
Pros: Almost always the cheapest investment a student can make. If it’s a book for a course or subject unrelated to your field of study, renting a textbook is probably your best option. Online rental websites, such as Department of Textbook Rentals, are filled with books at reduced prices and generally offer deals on shipping and handling if you’re purchasing or renting books from them.
Cons: You have to return the book (or pay a fine/fee and end up “buying” the book anyway), so make sure this is a textbook you don’t believe you’ll need after the class is over. You also get no return money like you would selling a book back, but depending on how much you spent versus how much you’d get in return, this might not make a difference (if you spend $200 and get $20 back instead of spending $30 altogether, it’s obvious renting is the better financial choice).