With the rising prices of textbooks, students at Ithaca College and nationally are turning to alternative sources to purchase their books, such as renting websites like Chegg and the rental program at the college’s Bookstore.
According to a report from NBC News last August, the price of textbooks has increased 1,041 percent from 1977 to 2015, which is three times the rate of inflation. The average cost of a new textbook has increased from $57 in 2007 to $79 in 2013, according to the National Association of College Stores, and the rates continue to rise.
Sophomore Chelsea Rance, a theater studies major, said sometimes textbook expenses prohibit them from taking certain courses.
“It definitely felt impossible because I’m a student that’s on a lot of scholarships. I don’t have that much money left over to splurge on textbooks at full price,” Rance said. “I have signed up for classes and dropped them because textbooks are so expensive.”
Because of these significant prices students like Rance sometimes turn to textbook rentals rather than buying books at full price. Rance searches for required books online and settles with the cheapest option.
“There’s a website called TextSurf that I use,” Rance said. “It actually pulls up from Amazon, Chegg and all these different vendors — all the prices to buy or rent — and that’s how I kind of compare the best option.”
Many students at the college reported the most popular place for renting textbooks is Chegg, an online textbook rental, scholarship matching and tutoring website.
John Fillmore, chief of business operations at Chegg, said a vast majority of their business from students is from rentals. Fillmore said the company has seen approximately a 5 percent growth in business in the past year.
Chegg said in a statement on its website in February 2015 that it saved students and their families more than $500 million in 2014 on textbook rentals, as opposed to the cost of buying them new at campus bookstores.
“Students are coming here because you can save up to 90 percent when you’re renting your books, and so what we find is that the students coming here are primarily looking for ‘How do I get out of this burden that is being caused by the bookstores charging $200 or $300 for a book?’” Fillmore said.
Sophomore Robert Mantell, an integrated marketing communications major, said he is a regular user of Chegg, and he rents his textbooks through the online site more often than buying or renting from the Bookstore.
“People told me through word of mouth, and I kind of started to use it, and then once I used it once, I kept using it because it worked so well,” Mantell said. “I like the idea of how you can send it back in the same box, and they’re really personalized.”
Fillmore said looking at rates industrywide shows that the amount students are spending on books is actually going down.
“Students are buying less books overall,” Fillmore said. “We would expect that as the industry continues to go this route. What you’re going to see is the low–cost online providers … will continue to take share, where bookstores are just not competitive.”
However Rodney Beers, manager of textbook and trade book operations at the college Bookstore, said the Bookstore is trying to stay competitive.
“Sometimes it’s not cheaper to get it elsewhere, depending on where we get it,” Beers said. “So sometimes publishers will discount books better than we would get it elsewhere online.”
In addition to renting and selling new books, the Bookstore offers used books in order to ease students’ expenses. The rental system is facilitated by a third party that determines the price. After the student returns the book to the Bookstore, it is returned to the third party.
Mantell said he prefers to rent online rather than through the Bookstore because he trusts sites like Chegg more.
“I’m used to it, and it’s worked for me in the past, and it’s simple, but also sometimes I don’t know if I trust the whole renting and buyback thing because I feel like they want to take my money,” Mantell said. “There are probably ways that it is just as cheap, but I don’t know. I just feel like I’m getting scammed.”
However, Denê Conde, a freshman health science and pre-med major, said she finds the Bookstore is more convenient than waiting for textbook rentals to be shipped on time.
“One of the bigger things for me is that I’m super impatient, so I like to have my book there the minute I go buy it or need it,” Conde said. “I’m not good at planning in advance, so the store is so convenient because it’s there.”
Despite services for renting through the bookstore, some students still find rental websites to be the best financial option.
“Thank God for these websites,” Mantell said. “It’s such a blessing because who has that kind of money to pay for textbooks. … It’s crazy how expensive it is because we’re paying tuition on top of paying for textbooks.”
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