Before going to college bookstore, consider renting textbooks

SchoolbooksFrom tuxedos to DVDs and cars, renting something for the short term makes a lot of sense.

For college students spending the annual nationwide average of $700 to $1,100 for textbooks, and sites such as offer textbook rentals by the quarter or semester, saving students hundreds of dollars each year on books they might otherwise sell back to college bookstores for much less than they paid when classes started.

Students renting from Chegg save 65% to 85% versus buying new books, said Aayush Phumbhra, co-founder of Chegg and senior vice president of operations, in a telephone interview.

"When you sell the book back to the bookstore, you get virtually nothing," Phumbhra said. A bookstore might pay 30% of the list price, and won't buy a book back if it already has enough in stock, he said.Chegg works fairly simply. Students find books by searching the ISBN number, author, title or keyword among the 2.4 million books the site carries.

"If we don't have it in our stock, we'll go get it for you," Phumbhra said of the Santa Clara, Calif. company in its third year of business.

The search results show the rental price, purchase price and information about the book.

Books are shipped and arrive in four to seven business days via priority mail, and eight to 12 business days with standard shipping. Buyers pay shipping fees when they rent, but don't pay for shipping when they return the books using the provided pre-paid shipping label.

My search for Shakespeare turned up "The Norton Shakespeare," a hefty 3,440 pages full of the playwright's complete works. The list price is $79.25 but the rental price for a semester is $31.47. Renting for a quarter is $29.22, and a 60-day rental is $26.97. Renters can also extend the rental or purchase the book. A 30-day refund is offered if a class is dropped.

As someone who liked to highlight books in college, I wondered if rentals could be returned if highlighted. Chegg allows it, within reason. Writing in books isn't preferred, although returns will be denied if the book is extremely damaged, Phumbhra said.

For a service that is similar to the popular DVD rental site Netflix, college graduates may wish they could have rented books.

"I wish this was around when I was in school, but it wasn't," said Phumbhra, 30, who graduated from Iowa State in 2004. He often went to online classified ads to find used books to buy, or borrowed extra books from his professors.
Read Full Story