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Textbook Buyers Are Smart. Renting Textbooks Is Dumb.

Textbook buyers aren't just learning what they read in their books they're getting a real-life crash course in economics. But with misleading comparisons, hidden fees and inflexible due dates, renting textbooks is not a smart alternative.

Textbook Buyers Know Better than to Rent

The thing about textbook buyers is that they're pretty much all students. They're intelligent, educated and possess a fairly high level of critical thinking skills. Unfortunately, some students don't bring those skills to the party when it's time to think about getting their textbooks for the next semester, which is how smart people sometimes end up doing something pretty dumb: renting textbooks.

Sure, the rental companies love to brag about how much students "save" by renting textbooks instead of buying them. These comparisons make renting textbooks sound like a great option. As any first-year economics major can tell you, a lower price is better than a higher price. But these comparisons don't actually tell the whole story.

First of all, they compare the rental prices to the full list price of brand new textbooks. But after that first-semester sticker shock, most students quickly become savvy textbook buyers and know better than to buy grossly overpriced new books if they can possibly avoid it. The same textbooks are often available online on sites like Amazon for half the price or less.

In fact, the majority of the books these services rent out have already been rented out at least once. They're not new, they are in fact used, and if the rental companies were being straightforward, they should really compare their rental fees to used textbook prices.

And that's not all. One reason rental services seem logical, at least at first glance, is that textbook buyers only need them for a limited time. After all, most students don't start a library of all their old textbooks and keep them forever. But in reality, most students sell their books back at the end of the semester. The real cost of the textbook is what the student pays for it minus what they get when they sell it back. This is another fact that the textbook rental companies conveniently ignore when making their claims of "saving" students money. Oh, but there's more.

Renting Textbooks is no Netflix

Campus bookstores represent a small and unique kind of marketplace where the laws of supply and demand are a little funny. They only can really deal in the books that the school will be using in the upcoming term. However, that list changes constantly as different professors come and go, teaching different courses, trying new books or even just moving to newer editions of the same book. When you're unlucky enough to be in the last term to use a certain book you are pretty much out of luck as far as textbook buyback at the bookstore goes.

Textbook rental companies are like banks, or cell phone companies in that a lot of their money comes not from charging for the service they provide, but from fees. That's how they get you.

What's really rich is when these companies go around comparing themselves to Netflix . Netflix wasn't just about rental-by-mail. There used to be a Blockbuster or a Hollywood Video on every corner where people could rent any movie they wanted and have it in minutes, instead of days. But what really sold people on Netflix were unlimited rentals for a low monthly rate, and most of all NO LATE FEES. The same cannot be said for textbook rental companies.

If you happen to miss the due date, you can look forward to an automatic "extension fee." And if your book is more than a few days late, you can be charged a "replacement fee" based on the full list price of the book when new. That's right, you can start off renting textbooks and end up paying the full price of new books for textbooks that were used when you got it. Not sounding too much like Netflix now, is it?

And why would anyone return their textbooks late, you may ask? Well aside from the unpredictability of life in general, renting textbooks means renting them for a fixed period, a certain number of days. This may or may not actually work with your school's schedule. In some cases, your textbooks might be due before you're even done with finals. It's exactly the kind of additional stress you need when you're trying to study for your exams.

So the next time you hear about how much students "save" by renting textbooks, go ahead and take it with a whole shaker of salt. Students who apply their brains and education can see that they're better off being textbook buyers than textbook renters.

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