Buying and Selling College Textbooks Still Better Than Renting

Students facing the high cost of textbooks may be tempted to try new book rental services. However, claims of convenience and savings may need a reality check. It’s still better to buy.


An Alternative to Buying and Selling College Textbooks

For the modern American college student, buying and selling college textbooks has become a complicated (and often expensive) dance of trying to find the best prices. Although many have turned to the internet to get their books for less and to sell them back for more, there is no denying that textbooks represent a significant portion of the mounting expenses associated with getting a college degree. It is no wonder then, that many students would be attracted to a new alternative – textbook rental services. However, upon closer examination, renting textbooks may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

Savings Too Good To Be True

Textbook rental companies try to differentiate themselves mainly on price. Their home pages and advertisements are emblazoned with claims like “Save 65% to 85%!” or “Save up to 75%!” The promise of such huge savings can seem incredibly alluring, but they deserve a second look. Upon closer inspection, what rental companies are really comparing themselves against is the cost of brand new textbooks sold at full retail price.

Misleading Comparisons

Selling college textbooks at full price is a great way to drive away students, especially the cost-conscious and tech savvy students of today. With more and more students skipping the campus bookstore and buying their books used on the web, comparisons to full retail price are misleading at best. In fact, many textbooks can be found online on sites like or for less than the rental fee for a single semester.

Ignoring the Value of Selling Books Back

The other factor that textbook rental sites fail to account for when they claim to offer 85% off is the money students get from selling college textbooks when they are done with them. Most college students don’t buy their books intending to keep them and cherish them forever and ever. Every college bookstore has book buyback days with long lines of students waiting to sell back textbooks. In additions, just as students are buying their books online, they are also increasingly selling them on the internet, either by listing them themselves, or selling them directly to sites like The true cost of a student’s textbook is what they pay for it minus whatever they make back by selling it. With selling books back figured in, textbook rental fees look even less competitive.

Due Dates and Late Fees

Today’s college students are the Netflix generation, but textbook rentals are more like older video rental stores with strict due dates, late fees and penalties. Worse yet, the due dates are not based on individualized information, such as when a particular semester or quarter ends at a particular school. Instead they are set arbitrarily, meaning that depending on what college a student goes to, their books may be due before they’re even done with their finals. Students who don’t return their books exactly on time face automatic fees of 20%-25% of the rental cost. Keeping the book longer than that can result in the rental being automatically converted to a purchase, meaning the student is responsible for the full list price of the book, or on some sites, up to 140% of the list price! All this adds up to exactly what students don’t need at finals time: more deadlines and more stress.

Renting Just Doesn’t Live Up To Hype

Textbook rental sites have gotten a lot of attention lately, and understandably so. With the high cost of books, rental services seem like an innovative way to save students money. Unfortunately, their claims don’t stand up to scrutiny, with fees higher than the cost many used books online, leaving students with nothing to show for it at the end of the term but stress and potential for late fees and penalties. Meanwhile, the practice of buying and selling college textbooks is also going through a revolution, albeit a quieter one. The internet is making it cheaper and more convenient to buy textbooks all the time, and online book buyer sites are making it easier to sell them back than ever before. Textbook rental is an interesting idea, but ultimately one that simply doesn’t stack up against the competition.