Barnes & Noble enters textbook rental business: Should you use it?

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Algebra bookNo doubt inspired by the success of sites like Chegg.com and BookRenter.com, Barnes & Noble has entered the textbook rental fray.

In a press release, the company announced that "Barnes & Noble College has made the program easy for students, enabling them to rent their textbooks from the comfort of their dorm or home simply by logging into their campus bookstore's e-commerce site. They can also rent from their campus Barnes & Noble bookstore. This innovative rental program gives students the added flexibility of paying for their rentals using any form of tender, including campus debit cards and student financial aid."

Renting textbooks can be a good way for financially strapped students to manage cash flow: even when buying the book and then selling it at the end of the semester will result in a lower net cost than renting, renting requires less up-front cash.

Renting may be a smart option for brand new titles that are not yet available second-hand. Still, here are a couple alternatives to renting that will likely yield better results for students:

  • Before you buy anything, email the professor and ask if it's OK to use an old edition of the textbook. For many classes, this will work just fine. . . and can save you literally 90% or more off of retail. For the fall semester of 2008, I bought an old edition of a legal studies textbook on Amazon.com for 1 cent -- saving 99.9759268%! For that class, the old book was every bit as useful as the new edition, but no one else in my class had thought to ask the professor whether it would work.
  • Buy your books used on Half.com or Amazon, but never trade them back to the bookstore at the end of the semester. Sell them on Half.com yourself, cut out the middleman, and keep as much of the money for yourself as you can.
Zac Bissonnette's book College on a Dime will be published by Portfolio in the fall.
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