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Textbook rental programs would benefit students

Credit: Jessica Thurston/Art Editor Credit: Jessica Thurston/Art Editor
Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

As college students, we all like to complain about money; namely, not having enough of it. Not only do we have a high cost of tuition, but we also have to pay for additional school-related costs, one of the most expensive of which is our textbooks.

Some people may get lucky and be able to buy their books from used books sites online, or from other friends, which are generally much cheaper options; while other people (like me) may end up having to buy new copies from the bookstore, paying close to $300 for books for one class alone.

And after the class is over, how many times do students even crack open that book again? While I would agree that some books remain useful after the semester has finished, many books, especially those for general education classes or electives, will never again be used. Try as you might to sell them back to the bookstore, you will likely receive merely pennies of the original cost you paid for the books only a few months earlier.

It is this situation that has prompted a growing number of companies to begin renting out textbooks, an idea that may seem logical and obvious but has never before been introduced. These companies allow people to rent textbooks for different periods of time — generally, either a semester or a year — for a small percentage of the full cost, and then decide if, at the end of the rental period, they would like to simply return the book or keep it and pay the remaining cost. Some of the rental companies even send you an online version of the first chapter to view immediately until the textbook reaches you.

To me, it is an idea that makes perfect sense. I mean, there are libraries where we can rent other, non-textbook books for a shorter period of time, and there are places like Blockbuster, Family Video, or Redbox where we can rent movies or television series to watch so that we don’t have to actually buy them. So why not rent textbooks as well?

People like the idea of renting before purchasing mainly because they like the ease and comfort of finding out if they like something, or if they think it will be useful, before they spend more money on it. This is even more true with college students and textbooks: Not only are textbooks exorbitantly expensive, but college students are more stingy with their money than most — hey, we need to have some money left for the weekends!

In many cases, professors assign a textbook but end up only referencing it once or twice, or only assigning homework problems from it, and instead provide their own notes, often more detailed and more applicable than the book anyway.

Another argument in support of purchasing your books is that you then can keep them forever and easily reference them any time in the future, either in your education or your career. But for students who are taking general education classes simply to fill up the required open slots, it is highly unlikely that they will ever need to reference the book in the future.

In addition, with the growing amount of material on the Internet, it is also very unlikely that students will need to find something in a book that they couldn’t find elsewhere online. I know that when I took a psychology class over the summer, Wikipedia was just about as helpful as the book itself in explaining different psychological theories and studies. And many professors from a number of universities actually post their class notes online, which can be found by a quick Google search.

Textbooks are no longer the only source of information about a subject, and they are not even necessarily the easiest way to find that information, either. Thus, if textbooks are no longer as useful as they used to be, at least after a class is over, why are they something that should continue to be held on to?

And even when textbooks were the easiest way to look up information about a certain subject, how often are those books actually referenced? My parents have boxes of old schoolbooks in our basement that are never looked at other than the occasional times we pull them out to laugh at the notes my parents made in the margins. Because textbooks can’t update themselves as the Internet can, the information quickly becomes outdated and irrelevant, anyway.

So renting textbooks with the option to purchase them later as well seems like the perfect solution.

For those classes where the book is barely ever used, you get to pay a fraction of even the used-book cost and clear up space in your tiny room when the class is finished. Even in this worst-case scenario, you’re still paying less than you would to buy the book. If you did get a lot of use out of the book but don’t think that you’ll ever use it in the future, you’ll at least feel like your rental fee was justified. And if you use the book a lot and think it would be useful to you in future classes, you can just decide to buy it when your time is up, without having to decide before the class even starts if the book will be helpful or not.

I appreciate that by renting out textbooks, companies are looking out not only for their own interests, but for the interests of students as well, by providing a service that is beneficial to both sides.