Textbook renting gaining popularity

September 8, 2009 1:19:47 PM PDT
Textbooks -- college students hate lugging them around, and they especially hate paying for them. Books are the third largest expense in the college budget. But, a Bay Area company says maybe the way students get their textbooks is in the problem.

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Hannah Casteneda needs a couple of textbook for her art classes at San Jose City College. She'll need even more when she switches to San Jose State. But, saving money for those books is tough.

"Sometimes a semester it will cost me about, I'll be spending $300 and that's just above my budget," said Castaneda.

Individual books can cost $80 or more at the college bookstore, and buying them online isn't much cheaper.

"Students feel like they're not getting a very good deal. They get really insulted twice: when they buy the books, they're too expensive, I mean on average a student spends thousands of dollars on books each year. And when they go to sell them back it's like pennies on the dollar ," said Chegg CEO Jim Safka.

That's why renting is the fastest growing part of the college textbook industry. Santa Clara based Chegg is one of the biggest players.

"Chegg is a lot like Netflix, but for college textbooks -- where students basically rent the textbooks. They go to our site, they put in the title or the author of whatever textbook is required and they rent them and save money," said Safka.

They can save between 65 and 85 percent on the latest edition. Calls come into the customer center in Santa Clara. But, the books ship from a warehouse in Louisville, Kentucky along with the packaging to send them back once the semester is over. Castaneda - who used Chegg - says the price was right.

"I know for an English book it would cost me $70 dollars used - period. But, when I went to Chegg.com that book was available for $25 just for a quarter," said Castaneda.

They are other competitors including companies like bookrenters.com and www.campusbookrentals.com. Even traditional book sellers like Follett see the writing on the wall and are setting up rental divisions themselves. Students at more than 6,000 colleges are now renting their books. And they have access to a couple million titles.

"We have any conceivable book that might be required on any college campus and if we don't have it we'll find it for you," said Safka.

Chegg allows a limited amount of highlighting and writing in the margin and you can buy the book if you wish.

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