UI bookstore expands rental options

BY RISHABH R. JAIN | AUGUST 25, 2011 7:20 AM

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Students aren’t buying full-price textbooks anymore. And with bookstores facing competition from online textbook-rental companies, they are now shifting toward cheaper rentals.

Encouraged by a $10 million grant included in the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, bookstores initiated textbook-rental programs on college campuses across the nation.

And the University of Iowa is following suit.

The University Bookstore, University Capitol Centre, which started its rental program with 40 textbook titles last semester, has increased its rental arsenal to 75 titles, and plans it to offer more than 100 textbooks for rent next semester.

Other Iowa City booksellers are also on the bandwagon.

“The rental program was introduced last semester, and the tremendous response compelled us to offer more textbooks for rent,” said Eric Schmidtz, the owner of Beat the Bookstore, Old Capitol Town Center.

Learning from the success of online textbook rentals, bookstores in Iowa City are now realizing that price matters most to students.

And some students may not be able to sell their books back at the end of the semester, which may deter them from purchasing in the first place.

“It depends on your timing, actually — they either don’t give you too much [money] or don’t take it back,” said UI senior Alex Lee. “But it’s better than nothing.”

Though many students choose to rent, major variations exist among prices at campus bookstores and prices online.

Chegg.com, the largest online textbook rental service, offers lucrative rental prices that tend to be relatively lower than its bookstore counterparts.

Several students, mostly upperclassmen, said they are put off by what they consider exorbitant prices.

“A textbook originally priced at $225 was available for rent at a price of $132 at the University Bookstore,” said UI senior Trew Basso. “Chegg had it for about $50. I obviously got it off Chegg.”

Basso said he feels bad for new students who aren’t aware of all of the options available to them.

On the other hand, bookstores emphasize how much students could save by renting textbooks.

“Our textbook rentals cost anywhere between 40 to 50 percent of the price of a new copy for the entire semester,” said Richard Shannon, the general manager of the University Bookstore.

There may be some good news for college students.

According to the Federation of State Public Interest Research Groups website, representatives from the group met with the U.S. Department of Education staff to discuss the implementation of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, which requires publishers to disclose textbook prices. Students will soon be able to look up accurate textbook prices listed online by the publishers.

The law also requires colleges to list names of assigned textbooks and their respective prices along with course names when students are registering for classes, according to the site.

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