Book rentals: new trend for higher education


Jan. 5, 2011 at midnight
Updated Jan. 7, 2011 at 7:08 p.m.

Cheap is a lifestyle for cash-strapped college students, and a new mantra might complement that when it comes to getting textbooks: Don't buy. Rent.

The Victoria College Bookstore is offering a textbook rental program for the first time this spring to help lighten students' financial book burden and compete with online book rental companies.

"The online rental companies have come about in the last four to five years, and they've caught on to the point where bookstores have decided we'll do our own," said Tim Terry, bookstore manager.

The VC bookstore contracts the program and offers 12 titles between VC and the University of Houston-Victoria.

The hope is renting books will give students more options to save money.

The program only works with new books. A student can pay for the full-price book - which can easily be higher than $100 - or rent the book for half the price. If the student returns the new book, they get about half their money back at the end of the semester, so the price comes out the same.

Terry believes the program is all about students timing their spending. They can either save half the new-book price now, or get it as a refund at the end of the semester.

Amanda Ramirez, a freshmen VC respiratory therapy student, believes saving on the front end of the semester is more important. Her household is on a single income, and she does not work. She believes the program is perfect for people in her situation.

"You never know what you're going to come upon when you're going to need money," she said. "So, rather than getting it back later, and basically repaying yourself, it would be easier to have it when you need it."

VC joins hundreds of college stores nationally who are also renting books.

"This past fall was the year of the rental," said Charles Schmidt, spokesman with the National Association of Colleges Stores.

Last fall, the group reported more than 1,500 of its members had a rental program compared to about only 300 the fall before. This spring, more than 2,000 have some kind of program, Schmidt said.

The issues of rising textbook prices is so pressing even the government has gotten involved.

The federal government offered universities $10 million for the past two years to pilot rental programs, and this year's state legislature will be examining at least three bills aimed at minimizing textbook costs.

Rental programs aren't always the most profitable solution. The rental process is time consuming for employees, and some stores are forced to hire extra help.

The programs aren't very profitable either. The VC Bookstore actually loses about 4 percent from each rental, but Terry believes offering students more choices is worthwhile.

"It's more a service we're trying to provide," Terry said.

He hopes to have more titles in the fall, but for now keeps tabs on students' interest.

"It's a good way to get our feet wet and get started," he said.



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