Friday, August 14, 2009

(e)TextBooks: Why Buy When You Can Rent?

Textbook Publisher to Rent to College Students / TAMAR LEWIN

New York Times / August 14 2009 / Education

In the rapidly evolving college textbook market, one of the nation’s largest textbook publishers, Cengage Learning, announced Thursday that it would start renting books to students this year, at 40 percent to 70 percent of the sale price.

Students who choose Cengage’s rental option will get immediate access to the first chapter of the book electronically, in e-book format, and will have a choice of shipping options for the printed book. When the rental term — 60, 90 or 130 days — is over, students can either return the textbook or buy it.

With the growing competition from online used-book sales, digital texts and new Internet textbook-rental businesses like Chegg and BookRenter, other publishers and college bookstores are also edging toward rentals.

Follett Higher Education Group, which manages more than 850 college bookstores, is starting a pilot rental program this fall at about a dozen stores, ... . The stores will offer about 20 percent of their titles for rent, charging 42.5 percent of the purchase price.


Besides giving students a new option, rentals give both publishers and textbook authors a way to continue earning money from their books after the first sale, something they do not get from the sale of used textbooks.


Cengage’s rental business will begin with several hundred titles this year, and then expand, Mr. Dunn said.

“The Internet has really changed everything in terms of our abilities to reach customers in different ways,” he said. “Our strategy has been to offer as many choices as we can, in terms of price points and different kinds of products. So if they choose not to buy the printed book, they can rent it, just as we already offer them the choice to buy an e-book, or a chapter.”

McGraw-Hill is taking a different route into rentals, through a partnership with Chegg, a fast-growing online textbook-rental business. Under an agreement that is to be announced soon, McGraw-Hill will supply 25 of its books to Chegg, in return for a portion of the rental revenue.


Barnes & Noble College Booksellers, too, is starting a pilot rental program at three of its 624 college bookstores this fall.


Mr. Maloney said the rental program would have been offered at more colleges and universities, if more faculty members had been willing to commit to using the same textbook for at least two years.

“We had a lot of discussions with schools, but in one case, they wanted to get 10 faculty members to sign on, and they couldn’t get any,” Mr. Maloney said.

Since a federal report four years ago found that textbook prices nearly tripled from 1986 to 2004 — rising an average of 6 percent a year, twice the inflation rate — Congress and state legislators have been working to contain textbook costs.

The Higher Education Opportunity Act, passed last year, included $10 million for grants to support textbook rental pilot programs; according to Charles Schmidt of the National Association of College Stores, more than 20 college bookstores have applied for grants.


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