Why Does Renting Textbooks Cost So Much?

By: Mr. Wade

Renting was supposed to bring the cost of textbooks down - but did anyone really think that textbook companies and campus bookstores would be on board with something that would make them less money? They are a business like any other, and the student textbook industry is huge. So does renting make sense? Does it help students actually save money? Or is it yet another ploy by university bookstores to get even more money from their students?

A Quick Example

Let's run the numbers and see, for a typical science textbook, what cost breakdown looks like and why the costs are so high for renting. To rent the ISBN 9780134414232 - Chemistry: The Central Science (14th Edition) for a semester costs $27.67 (as of this writing). If you were to buy the book, it would set you back $51.73 (as of this writing). It might look like a pretty good deal - you would save over $20 if you chose to rent. But let's take a closer look - because numbers don't always tell the truth...until you look at all the numbers. You could sell this book to a company online right now for $102.27! So instead of being in the hole $27.67 for renting, you could have gained $50 when it's all said and done. How can this be you might ask? It's called arbitrage - buying something from someone at a given price and then selling it to someone else for a higher price. It's all about who needs what - one company is willing to part with the book for a set price, and another company is willing to buy it for an even higher price. (These are real offers from real companies in this example, and you can run the numbers yourself here using our price comparison tool

Getting back to our main topic - why does renting textbooks cost so much, it's a combination of things, and it goes something like this. Some executive was probably sitting in an office somewhere and suddenly had an epiphany that went something like this, "Why are we selling used books to these college kids and then buying them back for almost the same price that we sold them for? Why don't we just have them still pay us of course but just give us the book back instead of us having to buy it back?" It's a genius way to increase revenue from used books, and most students don't even think twice about it.

It would be one things if textbook rentals were affordable, and it was about students saving money. But universities are just huge businesses and although many of them do claim they can teach you something, it's always about the money.