Way back in the day, when I was in college 20 years ago, textbooks were expensive (relatively speaking, of course), but it was still reasonably common for me and my peers to keep the books we used for classes. That might have been more normal for me as an English major than it was for people who majored in things like chemistry, since most of my “textbooks” were paperback novels and books of poetry and stuff like that. I certainly never paid over $50 for a textbook.
Nowadays of course, it is common– too common, if you ask me– for students to sell their books back to the book store at the end of the term. Inevitably, the return most students get is not enough but better than nothing. Again, English major-types are still better off than science oriented majors, where it’s pretty easy to find new textbooks priced at $150+. That’s too expensive of course, but I did once have a textbook sales rep tell me that for publishers, these uber-expensive books are actually a “break even” proposition because of all the detailed color printing in these books. Maybe, maybe not.
Anyway, now for those who cannot afford to own comes the opportunity to rent from BookRenter.com, which I found via DigitalKoans. It is what it is: basically, there are various options where students can rent their books. I didn’t look through the site long enough to see what was or wasn’t available and it’s clearly a new enterprise– in fact, they are inviting current students to design their college culture page.
There’s an analogy with home ownership, of course: years ago, people bought into the market at prices that were expensive at the time but which seems cheap now. A few years ago, people who wanted to be home owners ended up paying more both in terms of actual dollars and as a percentage of their income/overall expenses. And now, renting is presented as a viable option for those who can’t afford to own.
Given that when students sell their books back they tend to get pennies on the dollar, renting is probably a pretty reasonable choice. But I wonder if the next thing we’re going to see is some sort of “collapse” of the textbook industry along the lines of what we’re seeing now with real estate? Will things like open source textbooks, electronic textbooks, and now textbook rental disrupt the business model of the industry and causes prices to drop?