Can You Save Money by Renting Textbooks?
When I went to college it was unheard of to rent textbooks, but a number of outfits such as Chegg, Campus Book Rentals, and BookRenter.com have sprung up in the last few years that allow students to rent good quality textbooks at a fraction of the purchase price. Additionally, some book publishers are also getting into the business of renting out textbooks at campus bookstores. As an experiment, I checked out these sites to see if it is really worthwhile to rent a textbook.
Example 1: A classic book
I graduated from college just four years ago, so a lot of the textbooks I had are still being used in classrooms. First I looked up the classic computer science text Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs 2nd Edition by Abelson and Sussman and I selected the rental term of one semester. One semester is 125 to 130 days on the three book rental sites Chegg, Campus Book Rentals, and BookRenter. The rental prices are:
- Chegg: $40.06
- Campus Book Rentals: $44.68
- BookRenter: $63.86
As a comparison I looked at Amazon, and the price to buy a new copy is currently $68.80 and the cheapest used copy is $40.00. This tells me that a student could potentially do better than renting by just buying the book and then reselling it later. It gets even better when you search for this particular book in Google, because MIT Press has been offering the entire book for free online for a few years now. In this special case, free wins hands down.
Example 2: A book with a brand new edition
Next I looked at Introduction to Algorithms by Cormen, Leiserson, Rivest, and Stein. This popular computer science text is also commonly referred to as CLR or CLRS for the authors' initials and a new third edition just came out this year. The rental prices for one semester are:
- Chegg: $58.55
- Campus Book Rentals: Out of stock currently
- BookRenter: $75.69
So far it seems that Chegg has the best rental price, but when I went to Amazon I found that buying a new copy only costs $62.64 with free shipping. In this case it actually costs more to rent the book at BookRenter. Although renting at Chegg is about $4.00 cheaper than buying, I am sure you can sell the book for more than $4.00 after using it because it is brand new and chances are it will be used again next semester.
Example 3: A book that is a couple years old
Next I looked up Physics for Scientists and Engineers Volume II 4th Edition by Giancoli which came out in 2007. When I went to college I borrowed the third edition of this bulky book from the engineering library and kept it in my locker. The rental prices are:
- Chegg: $31.25
- Campus Book Rentals: Out of stock currently
- BookRenter: $59.41
Once again, Chegg wins on price and availability. BookRenter actually charges almost twice as Chegg for the same rental period for this particular book. On Amazon the book is selling for $86.16 new, and the cheapest used copy is around $47 right now. In this case it seems that the best deal is to rent from Chegg since the difference between buying and renting is quite big and even the used copies are more expensive than the rental price.
My takeaway from this experiment is that it is possible to save money by renting a textbook, but how much you can save depends on the particular book. It seems that brand new books are generally more expensive at rental sites, and it may be more economical to buy these and resell them while the resale value is still high. Older books are more likely to be freely available online or in libraries so it is better to check there first. The sweet spot for rentals seems to be books that are a couple years old such as the last book I looked up. It may make more sense to rent these books because their resale values might suddenly drop due to upcoming new editions.
Additionally, textbook rentals are great for people who do not want to deal with reselling books after a class ends. It is easy to just get rid of the book in the return box provided by the rental companies. I like the idea of renting a book because it encourages reuse, and Chegg actually plants a tree for each book you rent, buy, or donate so that makes the earth a little greener. The bottom line is that renting a textbook is definitely an option for saving some dough during school, but you still have to comparison shop a little bit to get the best deal.
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