Online book rentals offer students inexpensive alternative to bookstore

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Alan Martin was a graduate student when he noticed he was consistently breaking even through buying and selling his college textbooks online.

Inspired by his own experiences buying and selling textbooks, Martin started his own business, CampusBookRentals.com, in 2007, which was the first online business to rent books to college students.

“I was buying and selling my books online for five years and I just recognized the pattern that I was really breaking even on my books, and learning how to buy them right and sell them right,” said Martin in a phone interview. “I thought if I could buy books and sell books and break even, and rent books in the meantime, there could be a potential to create a profitable business and save students a ton of money.”

Today, Martin’s business rents books to thousands of students across the United States, and offers an abundance of benefits to students who choose to take advantage of his rapidly growing service.

“It was quite unheard of back in the summer of 2007,” said Martin.  “I launched the business back then, and it just resonated with students and took off like wildfire once the economy slowed down.  Everyone was interested in saving money and all of a sudden renting textbooks made a ton of sense.”

In one section of a Composition I course at Bloomsburg University, “The Curious Writer” by Bruce Ballenger and “A Writer’s Reference” by Diana Hacker and Nancy Sommers are the required texts for the course.  At the University Store, the books cost $86.00 and $60.65, respectively for a new copy, while the used copies cost $60.20 and $42.25, respectively.

Through Martin’s online book rental business, a 130-day rental of “The Curious Writer” is only $35.27. “A Writer’s Reference” costs just $27.50.  By renting the two books from campusbookrentals.com, students can save $83.88, or over 57 percent off the price of the new book, and $39.68, or almost 39 percent of the price if they were to buy the book at the used price.

“Students will typically save over half if they shop and rent online versus buying in their bookstore,” he said.  “We aim to keep our books at or below 50 percent of what they are at the bookstore.”

In addition to the financial advantage of renting textbooks, Martin believes his business is extremely convenient for students.

“We carry every book a student can find in a college bookstore, and we deliver right to their house, and not only that, we deliver the prepaid return envelope with the book,” said Martin.  “There’s no trying to sell the book back. It’s exactly like Netflix mechanically. They just slip the book or books back into the prepaid envelope and drop them off at their mailbox.  It’s just really, really easy.”

One potential problem students can face when buying or renting online is selecting the wrong textbook.  According to Martin, his site is simple and convenient, and students should have a relatively easy time selecting the correct book.

“It’s pretty easy to just search by title, or keywords, or author, and it’s just like going to Amazon or Barnes & Noble,” said Martin.  “It brings up the pictures of the book and full descriptions so students can be completely positive they’ve selected the right book before they checkout.”

Because a significant number of courses are based around particular textbooks, the selection process for professors can be a difficult one.  According to Dr. Abdullah Al-Bahrani, an economics professor at Bloomsburg University, selecting the right book for a class is based on his intended audience, and which book speaks best to that audience.  Al-Bahrani added it is also important to find the right balance, and that the subject material cannot be too easy or too difficult.

“I review six books, pick the two best, then pick the one with the lower cost,” said Al-Bahrani.  “My job is to educate the student, and part of that is making sure they actually buy the book.”

From a professor’s point of view, Al-Bahrani believes book rentals can be a positive and negative issue at the same time.

“For the student it’s economical,” he said. “But you worry about the student not seeing the true value of owning the book.”

Al-Bahrani explains there are two separate ways to view textbooks as a professor, a utopian view and a practical view.

“The utopian view is that students want to cherish every book,” said Al-Bahrani.  “The practical view is that I want students to learn, and as long as they have access to the book, I’m fine.”

Martin also knows that students can benefit from owning the book, instead of returning it when the rental period is up. This is why his company offers students the option to purchase the book by paying the difference between what they paid to rent it and what the book sells for.

“Thousands of customers every month decide to do that rather than send them back,” said Martin.  “The reason renting is completely risk free is because a student can rent a book, and if they decide they want to keep it, they simply pay us the difference between what they already paid to rent it and the purchase price of the book.  Often times, that purchase price is still less than they would have paid in the bookstore.  It’s completely risk free.”

Zach Erhard, a Bloomsburg University music education major, has never rented textbooks online but said he would consider renting.

“I would consider it,” said Erhard.  “Especially if I had the option to pay the difference to keep it.”

In addition to its lower prices and ease of use, Martin also said his site has always offered free shipping, and will continue to offer free shipping in the future.

“There is no minimum order value,” said Martin.  “We always have, from day one, offered free shipping both ways, and we will stick to that. We offer upgraded shipping offers which students can pay for, but well over half of our customers take advantage of free shipping both ways.”

Martin highly recommends online shopping as part of a student’s textbook purchasing habits each semester because it can save students a great deal of money.  The Internet and e-commerce are growing every day, and with it, opportunities to save money.

“If they [these students] just take 20 minutes out of their day, they can save themselves hundreds of dollars shopping online looking at book exchanges or if it makes sense, renting,” said Martin. “Just be smart about your textbooks.  We don’t tell every student they need to rent their books from us. We just tell them to be smart.”

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