The search for next semester’s textbooks has far outgrown the simple question of “campus bookstore or ebay.com?” Without a doubt, both options remain viable answers–yet with the advent of e-readers and rental services, today’s student holds the power of choice. Campus bookstores, while not always the cheapest option, continue to offer the most convenience. Shipping delays that can come with buying textbooks online are bypassed and when students finish the semester or quarter, bookstores often buy back their own textbooks most readily. Though some students will willingly trade thrift for convenience, even campus bookstores understand that buying books at their prices is often simply too expensive.
Looking to recapture business lost to textbook resale websites, many campus bookstores have integrated textbook rental into their sales. Rent-a-Text, launched in 2009, began offering its services at a few colleges the same year. Now, the company operates on over 700 campuses, working directly out of campus bookstores. But why use a service such as Rent-a-Text when websites such as Chegg.com offer to not only rent textbooks, but also plant a tree for every order placed? Rent-a-Text’s own website proffers, “Because your campus bookstore is the only bookstore with direct access to your instructors’ book lists, it – and only it – can guarantee that the books you rent are the right ones for your classes.” However, guaranteeing that a book matches a professor’s list only necessitates an ISBN. Even so, services like Rent-a-Text offer many books at less than half their original price with the convenience of buying them directly on campus.
Even with the option of rental, many students still head to websites such as ebayand Amazon to buy their textbooks online. Amazon offers students free two-day shipping for a year when provided with an .edu email address. For students willing to double-check ISBNs and scour the web for lesser-known titles, Amazon may be the most cost-effective and time sensitive option. However, Barnes and Noble recently renovated its textbook services as well, now offering options to rent or buy new, used, and e-reader textbooks. With its own e-reader, the Nook, B&N hopes to provide a unique textbook e-reader experience, with the ability to tag and highlight content. However, the main reason to buy or rent used textbooks through Barnes and Noble presents itself not in its new online store, but in the physical stores that grace street corners just outside of many city campuses. If an order is botched, students need not reship books or call a sales representative, but can walk right into a Barnes and Noble store to have his or her problem resolved.
To talk about textbook options and not mention e-books would seem dated with all of the hype over e-readers such as the Kindle and the iPad; yet for all of the publicity e-books receive, they do not realistically serve as an option for many college students. E-readers themselves cost hundreds of dollars, and their textbook offerings simply do not yet match up to physical textbooks in number. Universities such as Stanford and the University of California, Irvine have launched e-reader pilot programs for their freshman medical students, but such programs have yet to flourish at the undergraduate level. Additionally, a study held by the Book Industry Study Group recently found that seventy-five percent of college students prefer physical textbooks to e-books, namely for their look and feel. The study also found that college students would rather rent than download textbooks for the time being. While browsing through e-pages of Sound and Sense on a screen may be the way of the future, for this coming semester, most students will look to buy or rent their textbooks.