A Consumer’s Guide to Buying, Renting Textbooks

BU Today reports things to consider before making that purchase

It’s time to get out your credit cards or checkbook. With classes starting today, the annual scramble for textbooks has begun. It’s always an expensive proposition, but students are getting better at playing the game. According to a study by the National Association of College Stores, students spent an average of $579 on textbooks last year, compared to $602 in the 2015–2016 school year. (That’s besides an additional $506 on school supplies and technology.) Steve Turco, general manager of Barnes & Noble at BU, attributes the falling costs to the growing number of books available for rental or for purchase or rent digitally.

“Last year, students saved over $1,400,000 by taking advantage of our new and used rental, used, and buy and rent digital options,” says Turco. This year, 85 percent of the store’s textbooks can be rented and 31 percent are available in digital format, up from 28 percent last year. And online sellers like Amazon and Chegg.com offer eTextbooks, rental, and buying options, as well as grace periods where books can be returned for free.

Upperclassmen say it pays to do your homework. “My advice to other students is to shop around a bit,” says Laura LaBrecque (CAS’18). “Rent used books when available. Through Barnes and Noble, the used rental books are the cheapest, and I’ve always gotten books in good condition. Unless it’s for a class that you’re extremely passionate about or plan to continue with in the future and you see some future use for that book, always rent.”

A quick review of one popular economics textbook, Principles of Microeconomics, underscores why doing a little research pays off. You can buy it new at Barnes & Noble at BU for $250, rent it new for $162.50, buy a digital version for $124.99, or rent it digitally (the cheapest option) for $74.99. On Amazon, you’ll find the same book new for $150, used versions starting at $86.40, and rentals starting at $60.01. An eBook version is available for $124.49. A quick search of Chegg.com shows the book available for purchase new for $182.99, for purchase used for $168.49, available for rent starting at $87.49, and available for purchase digitally for $65.10.

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