By James Hearne
Over the past 20 years, the price of textbooks has increased at twice the rate of inflation, according to a Government Accounting Office study. Now, many college campuses are offering another way for students to get the books that they need.
Textbook rentals at Whatcom were started on a trial basis in spring quarter of 2012. It has been expanded this quarter. Jon Spores, the director of the student bookstore at Whatcom Community College, said that over the past quarter, about 105 people have taken advantage of the textbook rental program, tripling from spring quarter. Whatcom is one of more than 1,500 college campuses across the country to implement such a program.
The way the program works is that a student checks out a book for a period of usually 90 days at a time. The student pays about 40 percent of the books sale price. If they don’t return it on time, they are charged the remaining 60 percent.
“So often with textbooks, the idea of a captive audience applies,” Spores said. This means that because a specific textbook is required for a class, the student has no choice but to purchase that book, which means that prices do not necessarily have to remain competitive.
Now, with advent of online textbook rentals, publishers and campus stores are finding ways to provide books at a lower cost that are financially sustainable. However, it is hard to keep prices competitive.
A textbook called “Microbiology: Principles and Explorations,” which would cost $195 new or $146 used, if purchased at Whatcom’s book store can be rented for $71.26. A price comparison check at the website textbookrentals.com shows that the same book can be rented online through various sites, for a 90-day period, at prices ranging from $40.12 to $66.32.
Spores said he understands if students buy or rent from an online source, and encourages them to shop around. “They are expensive,” he said. “It’s difficult enough for students these days to keep their finances under control.”
Certain books may be less expensive to simply buy used and sell back to the store at the end of the quarter, rather than to rent, he added, but stressed that it’s on a case by case basis.
“Yes, absolutely you should comparison shop,” Spores said. “Just make sure you take us into account. Don’t automatically assume that an online source has a better deal than campus.”
Brooke Steinberg has not rented books from the bookstore, but she has borrowed them for a few hours from the library. “I think it’s a great idea,” she said. Her focus is on criminal justice and psychology, and the books for both can get pricey.
Jake Hawes, a student at Whatcom, says he knows about the bookstore’s program, but doesn’t use it yet. He says he finds the idea appealing, but he does see a potential problem. “I like to write in my textbooks,” he said.