Textbook rental still a thing of the future

The dawn of a new semester brings quick change and hard work for all, but for a couple new textbook rental companies with innovative missions, the work is especially stressful in these crucial first weeks

The dawn of a new semester brings quick change and hard work for all, but for a couple new textbook rental companies with innovative missions, the work is especially stressful in these crucial first weeks of courses.

Just nine employees run WhyRentBooks.com, a textbook rental company that started in its founder’s living room a few weeks ago. Workers left their old jobs to create what they saw as a company with infinite potential.

Garland Shields founded the burgeoning business when he discovered his significant other had to spend $110 on a single textbook.

“I knew the extent of what it could be for everyone, for students,” Shields said, “because $110 for one book is pretty drastic.”

And the company has seen exponential growth in its delicate first weeks.

“It went from a small idea to a huge operation very quickly,” Shields said. “We took immediate action when we saw potential in this. We started this process two to three weeks ago. To get everything organized was a challenge.”

While WhyRentBooks.com only employs trusted family members for now, the company is looking to hire college students in the near future.

“We are looking to get students on campuses to help us market,” he said. The company is looking to visit Temple’s campus sometime in the Fall semester.

The number of customers using WhyRentBooks.com has more than doubled in the last week, now nearing 1,050 students in its second week running.

Students who return their textbooks to WhyRentBooks.com in poor condition must pay the full price of their textbooks.

“We are expecting the students to be responsible adults, you know, preserve the books as much as possible,” Shields said.

WhyRentBooks.com prefers that students underline important passages as opposed to highlighting. Limited notations in margins are also deemed acceptable.

Shields said his company is working with manufacturers to give erasable highlighters to students for free, or at least, a very low cost, with their rentals. They also plan to implement a system in which students can continually make money off their old textbooks.

“If you have old textbooks from last semester that you’re not using, instead of giving that textbook back to the bookstore for $10, we are going to rent your book out for you,” Shields said. “You’re going to make money on that book every time it’s being rented – kind of like Amazon[.com] on steroids.”

Chegg.com, a company more established in the textbook rental field, encourages students to borrow their textbooks for as low as 20 percent of the cost that would be needed to buy the same books.

Founders Osman Rashid and Aayush Phumbhra first established Chegg as an exchange/classified Web site before launching the rental option.

“The decision was made to revolutionize the entire market, basically, and save students a ton of money,” said Chegg Vice President Aayush Phumbhra. “We got a tremendous amount of response. Students definitely loved the idea.”

Textbooks rented from Chegg are to be returned in decent condition at the end of the rental period of 185 days, which includes a five-day window after finals, though one-to-two-week requests for extensions are accepted.

While some light highlighting is tolerated, students who underline passages or write in the margins of their rented texts will have to pay an extra fee for damages.

Chegg exercises an environmental conscience – affiliate group Eco-Libris plants one tree for every textbook rented, to help repair the large-scale impact of the textbook industry on the earth.

Phumbhra said the current state of the value students get for their dollar can be improved by renting.

“When you’re talking about a student who’s spending 900 bucks on the cost of textbooks, and then they’re just collecting dust, it’s just crazy,” he said. “You don’t want to keep every textbook because you’re not going to refer to every textbook.”

Both companies offer the option of buying the textbook at the end of a rental period, for students who become emotionally attached to their assorted Intro to Physics or Advanced Sociology textbook.

At least 15 states have considered or attempted regulating textbook prices with legislation, according to a 2007 industry report by the Rocky Mountain Skyline Bookstore Association.

“They’re trying to force the schools – the companies like bookstores – to actually go through a system of renting textbooks,” Shields said. “Unfortunately for that, these bookstores have been around for a hundred years. They’re very popular with the politicians, and they don’t have too many people lobbying against them.”

“I’m sure there are tons of laws all over the country, but we haven’t really seen textbook prices going down,” Phumbhra said.

While some universities are starting textbook rentals for their own students, only a small percentage have found this a practical ideal.

Jim Hanley, manager of Temple’s Main Campus bookstore, expressed the difficulties in instituting this kind of project on campus.

“In order for a textbook rental to be viable, we need a guarantee from the professor that they won’t change their text for a minimum of two years, sometimes three years,” he said.

Frequent updates to new editions of textbooks are one of a few basic complications that hinder a potential textbook rental base on campus.

“The logistics of distributing books, making sure students turn the books back in, the rental fee and deposit – it’s generally not much less than purchasing the book outright,” Hanley said.

Independent rental companies face drawbacks, too. Campus bookstores have stronger connections with university faculty members. These companies also face some trouble loaning packaged materials, some with special codes used for Web sites that supplement the textbook.

“There are books out there that faculty have adopted, once you use the code, the code can’t be used again,” Hanley said.

Many students are pleasantly surprised by the cheaper spending options offered with textbook rental.

“I think it would help a lot of students that have to pay for everything themselves cut a lot of costs,” said senior criminal justice major Benta Samuelson. “I often spend $300 or more every semester on books. If there was a way to really cut down the price, possibly by renting books, I would definitely give it a try.”

But some students prefer the convenience of purchasing their textbooks at a nearby location.

“I probably would still wind up going to the bookstore unless I knew there was textbook rental on campus,” said sophomore advertising major Christina Dehoman. “It’s just easier for me to walk over to the bookstore to get it. You can sell them back anyway. I don’t mind it.”

Caitlyn Conefry can be reached at caitlyn.conefry@temple.edu.


  1. I sold a book to them that I bought after they were not able to rent it to me. They kept my book and never sent the check. Now, they are nowhere to be found. Not even the Better Business Bureau can find them. Please spread the word. I think it is sad when they take advantage of a poor college student like that.

  2. Chegg really has the right idea. I think they still have some bugs to be worked out in regards to product quality control and customer service issues.

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