Money tight, more students turn to book rentals

With the economic recession adding to the strain on students’ wallets, many are now choosing to stop buying expensive textbooks and rent them instead.

The book rental model, which allows students to rent textbooks and then return them after finals with free return shipping, has been around since 2007, but has shown significant sales increases since the economy tanked last year., an online book rental company, was an early entrant on the rental scene. The company started renting textbooks two years ago. Since then, other companies like and into the market.

“Buying new or used textbooks may not be a complete and viable solution for a student, so we sought to save students money by giving them another option,” said USC alumnus Jim Safka, the chief executive officer of Chegg.

Company representatives said the market has grown primarily through word of mouth on campuses around the country.

Chegg, for example, has student users at more than 6,000 universities nationwide. Newer companies like have customers at more than 3,000 campuses nationwide, representatives said.

Amy Herrmann, a sophomore majoring in international relations, said she decided to rent her textbooks after learning about Chegg from a family friend who was able to rent a law textbook valued at $280 for $30 per semester. Herrmann rented nine textbooks from Chegg, paying $150 for the semester.

“It looked like a cost-effective option, as I’m not going to keep all of my textbooks,” Herrmann said. “I got all my books in wonderful condition, and so far it’s a really great service.”

Laura Sneddon, marketing manager for, said the company saw a 750 percent increase in revenue in the first half of 2009, compared to the same period the year before.

“More people want to save money by renting and the whole renting phenomenon is going to grow as students continue to have financial troubles in this economy,” Sneddon said.

However, not all students think the idea of renting textbooks is the most thrifty or practical option.

“I think after the time I sell the book that the cost difference between buying and renting isn’t enough for me to seriously consider renting,” said Andrew Gier, a sophomore majoring in writing for screen and television.

Gier said students should research the price of textbooks and options of selling books back before turning to rental sites.

Although students may be able to make money by buying textbooks and reselling them online, on websites such as or, renting offers students the ability to save money upfront. This allows them to have more money available to meet other immediate needs.

Chegg also offers students the option of changing their “rental” to a purchase option by paying the remaining value of the book.

Many students said the choice between renting and buying seems logical.

“It’s nice to know that right up- front I’m saving money that I can then use for other things,” said Leslie Marchand, a sophomore majoring in cinema-television production who rented her textbooks from Chegg.

Pertusati USC Bookstore administrators said they do not think book rental companies pose a threat to bookstore profits.

“Right now it’s too early to really tell, but I wonder if [Chegg] would even have the inventory to fulfill students’ textbook needs,” said Raymond McDermott, senior manager of course materials for the bookstore.

McDermott said he could not see the bookstore renting out textbooks in the future, largely due to economic reasons.

“We have to purchase all our textbooks upfront, so doing a rental program would not even allow us to break even,” McDermott said. “Also, renting textbooks out is usually is something done at community colleges where professors have less autonomy.”