Students seek other ways to buy textbooks


With the start of the spring semester comes the need to obtain textbooks. But this semester, students are turning away from purchasing traditional textbooks in favor of renting or buying e-textbooks and used books.

Jessica Zaloom, public relations representative of online textbook retailer and renter eCampus.com, said this season could make-or-break textbook retailers, as the sale and rental of e-textbooks threaten traditional textbook sales.

Although this poses a threat to textbook companies and retailers, Matt Montgomery, CEO of eCampus.com, said his company intends to overcome the obstacles by stocking up on popular textbooks and offering used options.

“The key to success is having the right books in stock at the right point,” he said. “All of our preparation focuses on ensuring we reach both benchmarks.”

He said the cause of low textbook return rates is based on the prospective value of the book for the following semester.

“Buyback prices are established based on the future value of the book the next semester,” Montgomery said. “If a publisher releases a new edition of an existing text, the buyback value of the old edition will decrease dramatically.”

He said many students prefer having a physical copy of the book rather than a digital copy because the physical copies do not have a subscription expiration date.

“E-books have drawbacks. The greatest is that they are predominantly subscriptions of roughly one semester,” he said. “For students who need to keep their books for future reference, this is clearly not workable.”

Montgomery said e-books are not expected to make a significant impact on the market, but the rising rate of rental books is expected to continue.

E-books make up 7 percent of the market and that number is not expected to increase, according to an eCampus.com’s research report. But he expects the opposite to occur with rentals.

“We expect to see [textbook rentals] increase over the course of the next several years,” he said.

Bob Thiel, general manager at used bookstore NJ Books, said students are more likely to save the most money buying used books and selling them back.

“Selling back books can definitely produce the lowest net cost to a student,” he said. “However, fewer and fewer books are available for buy back as publishers often update their editions.”

Thiel said students who would prefer to see the savings upfront should look to rentals.

“Renting books is a safer way to go, definitely less of a gamble,” he said. “Obviously, purchasing a book can yield a better return, but there’s also a chance its value will decrease.”

For NJ Books, the sale trends are not as clean cut as the rest of the industry, Thiel said.

“The industry has seen rentals on the rise, but it’s really hard to say because we haven’t offered rentals for very long,” he said. “In comparison with last semester, we have more titles available for rent, but it seems that students have preferred to purchase books and sell them back.”

Thiel said students could sell their books back for up to two thirds the initial price, provided that the publisher has not released a newer edition of the title.

Some students have expressed interest in downloading their books digitally, citing cheaper prices and more convenience.

Maxwell Bartels, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said he was unhappy with the rentals that campus bookstores provide.

Book retailer Barnes and Noble — which manages the Cook/Douglass and Penn Plaza Rutgers Bookstores — declined to comment at press time.

“This semester I’m going to download a lot more books,” Bartels said. “It’s cheaper, it’s simpler, and I won’t have to keep track of any rented books.”

Kirkland Hamilton, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, expressed his concern for the prices of textbooks.

“If my books aren’t available digitally, then I’d rather just go without them,” he said. “Otherwise it’s just too much money out of my pocket at once.”

Sam Rea, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said he buys and sells all of his books exclusively online.

“I usually only get about 25 percent of my money back,” he said. “I don’t usually rent any books. I just buy them at the start of the semester and hope I can sell them back for a decent price.”

He said if he had the opportunity to download books, he would keep his textbooks digital.

Patrick Kessel, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said he prefers a real book instead of a digital copy.

“There’s just something about having the book,” he said. “E-books aren’t as versatile. You can’t flip back and forth as easily or write notes in the margins.”

Kessel said he continues to buy used books and sell them back to the bookstore.

“I’ll get rentals if I can save a good amount of money,” he said. “But other than that I stick to used books.”


By Adam Uzialko

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