INSIGHT - Rented vs. Purchased Texbooks

Rented vs. Purchased Textbooks

How offering rental options can save students money

College students have plenty of decisions to make, among them: purchase class materials or rent them? With the costs of textbooks climbing and with most popular titles readily available, renting new or used books is a growing trend.

A recent Student Watch™ report confirms that the frequency of course material rentals has doubled over the last four years to 40 percent.* Likewise, a Student Monitor Spring 2015 Lifestyle & Media Study tells us that 28 percent of students rented one or more printed textbooks for the term.

This article discusses how rental programs work, their advantages for students who rent materials and the campus stores that offer them, and important information for faculty members considering rental options for course materials.

The Nuts and Bolts of a Rental Program
Rental programs allow students to rent printed textbooks that are either new or used. By renting books, students can save up to 80 percent of what it would have cost to purchase a new book — welcome news to those who are cash-strapped. And if students decide that they want to own the book after all, they can just pay the difference at the end of the term.

Rental programs offer benefits beyond money savings. They also help get books in students’ hands on or before the first day of class. That means that students are better prepared for class lectures and assignments, which is a key indicator of overall success.

Since 2011, the frequency of course material rentals has doubled to 40%*

Key Players Who Make a Rental Program Effective

In addition to willing students, two other groups bring rental options to life: your course materials partner at the campus store and faculty members.

An experienced campus store retailer can leverage its network of stores to obtain the largest number of rental titles. Campus stores contribute to an effective program by educating students about their choices. Faculty members play the most important role when they choose titles that students can rent because they’re helping students save money. When textbooks are more affordable, it is more likely that students will come prepared on the first day of class with textbooks in hand.

Rented Course Material Formats1

A Follett Higher Education Group survey in February and May 2015 revealed that 66 percent of students don’t purchase course materials due to price. Three-fourths of these students also said that having course materials on the first day of class better prepared them for lectures and assignments. Almost two-thirds of the students said that having course materials on the first day of class improved their overall grades.2

Tips for Faculty to Drive Savings
• There are no access codes for rentals, so if professors are not going to use them in class, they should choose titles without codes, so there are more options.
• If certain titles are required and faculty members will commit to them for several terms, Follett can arrange special pricing and create rental options.
• Most titles are available for rental, but custom titles or titles on a limited number of campuses are not, since they are specific to a professor or certain schools.

Total Cost of Ownership
This chart illustrates the different options that students have in acquiring materials, and how much those options cost when buyback prices are factored in. While it may look as if the cheapest option is buying used materials, there is risk built into that choice.

That’s because books that students purchase are eligible for the highest buyback prices only when those books are readopted for use. And the price that campus stores pay — up to 50 percent of the purchase price — depends on the demand.

So if faculty members do not readopt textbooks for their next term, the demand for that book drops and so do the buyback prices. Therefore, rental options present the lowest risk to students.


Purchase Price

Savings vs. New

Buyback Price

Total Cost











Rent New1





Rent Used1







Chart Notes
1Pricing varies by location and title.
2Selling used books commands strong buyback prices only when the title is readopted and maximum buyback is applied. Therefore, renting used books represents the option with the lowest risk.


Books that students purchase command strong buyback prices only when the title is readopted. So students looking for the lowest-risk option should instead consider renting used books.

Who Wins with Rental Programs?
Students, of course. However, schools, faculty members and the campus store stand to gain as well.

Benefits for Student
• Savings. Those choosing rental options will enjoy initial cost savings of up to 65 percent off the cost of buying new textbooks.
• Convenience. Rent in-store or online and avoid needing to sell books at the end of the term.
• Realistic expectations. Light wear and tear on the books is expected, so students have the freedom to take notes, highlight and mark the pages with sticky notes.
• Payment options. Students can pay for rented items the same way they pay for purchased books, using financial aid, a campus card, credit and debit cards or cash and checks.
• Rent to own. Students can purchase the books that they’re renting anytime.
• Preparedness. More affordable access to books means that students are equipped with the tools needed to learn.


Benefits for Faculty
• Empowerment. Professors can play a direct role in helping students save money if they adopt books available for rent.
• Engaged learners. Students who have various ways of acquiring needed materials are more likely to come prepared to the first day of class.


Benefits for Schools and Campus Stores
• Goodwill. Your students will appreciate additional choices, especially when the costs of textbooks are rising.
• Positive image. Students will view the campus store as a helpful place.
• Relevance. Campus stores that offer rental options for students help keep the business on campus, lessening the students’ perception that they need to go elsewhere to rent.
• Compliance. The rental option meets the requirements of cost-savings programs as outlined in the Higher Education Opportunity Act.
• Success stories. Students who come ready to learn are more likely to succeed.

With the cost of textbooks rising, students are always looking for ways to help themselves manage their budget. Likewise, campus stores want to do everything possible on behalf of their students to lower the costs of materials.

Rental options allow students to save money while positioning the campus store as a helpful partner. Faculty members also play an important role in helping students save money. By adopting course materials available for rent, they make it easier for students to come prepared on the first day of class — something that students say helps them improve their overall grades. As the textbook and materials landscape continues to grow and change, everyone will be looking for alternatives. Rental programs with options through the campus store provide solid choices and savings opportunities.

*Student Watch™, “Attitudes & Behaviors Toward Course Materials,” Fall 2014
1Student Watch™, “Attitudes & Behaviors Toward Course Materials,” Fall 2014
2Source: Survey of 3,114 includED® students