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Blog: Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles
Textbook Rentals: How To Avoid College Textbook Clutter

When was the last time you were asked to find the area under a curve? 

What were the main political, social and economic causes of the American Civil War?

True or False: a mole is defined as the amount of substance of a system that contains as many "elemental entities" (atoms, molecules, etc.) as there are atoms in 12 g of carbon-12 (12C)?

Paper Doll bets you really don't care. And yet, is it possible that although you've been out of college a while, you still have those old textbooks?

We hold onto college textbooks for a number of reasons, and the reasons differ depending on whether the books were recent purchases or from bygone years. In school, if a course just ended, you might have thought you'd need the information next semester to bolster more advanced studies. Senior year, you might have planned to sell back your textbooks, but when exams were followed quickly by graduation (followed immediately by dorms or landlords unceremoniously ejecting you), the best laid plans got shoved in the back of the VW microbus, between the lava lamp and bean bag chair. (Insert your own anthropologically significant vehicle and possessions; as an 80's baby, my memories come with a looping soundtrack of A-Ha's Take On Me.)

After college, you moved onto your first job (or the next, or the next) and found that you carted never-opened boxes of books from city to city. Perhaps you held onto your textbooks out of sentimental attachment until (or even after) someone pointed out that college ended twenty or more years ago, that the textbooks bear no relation to your current career or areas of personal interest, and the information as was known in 1987, or 1957, or even 2007 is just plain out of date.

Back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and Paper Doll was in college, we had no internet and no Amazon.com. We could buy from the official campus store or from the one independent bookstore. When the semester ended, we could try to sell back the books (assuming we had the time, inclination, and a friend with a car to help us transport our heavy collection of required reading), for which we'd get a pittance. More likely, the books would end up in our parents' basements or our own homes, untouched, eons later.

Today's students have excellent alternatives: they can rent textbooks, and even if they purchase them, students have far more venues to sell the books back and recoup expenses. 

Lately, I've been reading about some intriguing alternatives.  For example, there's
  Chegg, a textbook rental service based on a simple system:

1.  Find books--Type in the book's ISBN (y'know, the thingie with the bar code), title or even the author's name.

2.  Rent books--The selections are purported to be new or "like new", and prices quoted are designed to offer 65-85% off publishers' list prices for textbooks. Since most textbooks are only used during one semester and then languish on a bookshelf (or propping up a lofted bed), why pay full price to use it for the same amount of time you'd have previously used it (i.e., not so long) when you can pay less and then have a nice reminder system to keep it from cluttering your life?

Chegg doesn't charge a monthly fee; instead, each book has a specific rental fee, differentiated by data associated with the ISBN. (As paperbacks and hard covers of the same title have different ISBNs, you might want to see if there's a soft cover copy available.)

Rental periods depend on how long you need a book. A semester's rental is 125 days from the original order date, but if your school is on the quarter system, that rental is only 85 days, and a summer rental is 60 days. At first, I wondered if that might be the dangerous hook, that renting would end up like borrowing a fat new library book that can't possibly be finished within 7 days. However, if you look at a standard college semester calendar, from the end of August to mid-December, you really get a few extra weeks with each rental plan, enough to accommodate shipping time and still get you through exams.

What if you get mono during the semester, have to take an incomplete and the professor is kind enough to grant a few extra weeks to finish the coursework during or after winter break? Chegg.com offers the option of 15 or 30 day extensions, with extension fees dependent on the individual book cost (based on the ISBN.) If the class is an independent study, or a second semester of a class requires the same textbook, students can rent for an additional quarter or semester at a discount off the full rental price. If your textbook is the best thing since sliced bread, you can even convert a book rental to a purchase.

Finally, there's even a 30-day "any reason" guarantee, so if you drop Accounting after ten days because you've decided to become a Drama major, you'll get your money back. Just postmark your returned book within 30 days of your order date to get back the full rental price.

3.  Get books--You can select Standard shipping (7-10 days) for $3.49 for the first book and $1.49 for each additional item, or Priority shipping (4-7 days) for $3.79 for the first book and $1.79 for each additional item. If you know which courses you'll be taking before you even get to campus, and your school lets you verify required texts via a web site (or you can contact the professor), you can arrange to have the books arrive the day before classes start. 

One downside:  Chegg is only available to students in the 48 contiguous U.S. states, and won't ship to international or military addresses. If you're attending college in lovely Hawaii, it's not like Paper Doll is going to give you heaps of sympathy, but Alaskans, students studying abroad and military families may want to price out having the books shipped as close as possible and then sending via care package, in case a rental will still work out to be less expensive than an outright purchase.

4.  Read books--Neither Chegg nor Paper Doll can help with this step. Grab some caffeine, hunker down and study!

5.  Return books--When you log into your Chegg account, you'll be able to access a UPS pre-paid shipping label to return your books. All the textbooks can be returned in one box, but pack them safely so they'll get back to Chegg undamaged.

6.  Save the Planet--Chegg partners with the American Global ReLeaf® Program to plant a tree for every book rented, purchased, sold or donated through their company.

By the way, college, grad school, law and medical students can also sell the textbooks they've purchased on campus (or elsewhere) to Chegg. Just type in the ISBN number to get a quote, print the free label to ship the book, and then get paid. 

Of course, Chegg isn't the only company in the textbook rental realm. There's also:

Book Renter.com operates much like Chegg. (It also has the cutest logo, and for fans of the TV show Lost, it's heartwarming to note that their Error 404 page is actually listed on the site map as "4 8 15 16 23 42"!) Rental prices are designed to offer an approximate 75% discount off of publishers' list prices for their predominantly new or "like-new" titles. 

Search books via ISBN, author or title, then select from one of five rental periods (30, 45, 60, 90 and 125 days). Books are shipped via Next-Day or 2-Day shipping. It's interesting to note that while Chegg starts a rental period as of the date of the order, BookRenter.com's rental periods begin as of the date you receive your book

If you need to keep the book longer, extensions are available for 10, 30, 45, 60 or 90 days, and there's no limit to how many times you can extend a rental. But honestly, at some point it'll be cheaper to admit you left the book in someone's dorm room and since YOU ARE NOT SPEAKING TO THAT PERSON, you might want to convert your rental to a purchase. (College life can be very melodramatic!)

Returning books is simple, too. Just print the UPS label from within your account, securely package the book(s) and make sure you ship by the end of your rental period. Late returns are charged at 20% of the book's list price (and granted an automatic extension), but books not returned after 14 days are charged at a whopping 140% of the list price (minus prior rental/shipping costs, plus a $10 slowpoke fee)!

BookRenter.com serves all 50 states and D.C., but not military (APO/FPO) addresses or Canada.

Campus Book Rentals is a relative newcomer on the textbook rental stage at only two years old, but seems eager to please, even offering monthly contests and scholarships. Search by ISBN, author or title and you'll receive a quote for a per-book rental cost, with each book's discounted price is based on its ISBN. Next, select your preferred rental period: Semester (130 days), Quarter (85 days), or Summer (55 days). 

All rental periods come with a 15 day grace period, and 15 and 30 day extensions are also available. Like Chegg, Campus Book Rentals offers a 30 day "worry free" guarantee--be assured of a refund in case you need to drop a class. However, an even more intriguing option exists for students who need to retake a class, or who register for a class requiring a previously rented textbook. If you need to re-rent, there's an option in the account settings to do so, and re-rentals are available at a 30% discount!  And, of course, if you choose to purchase a book you've rented, it's pretty easy to do; the purchase amount is the difference between what you already paid in rental fees and the value of the book.

Books are then shipped to you (as long as you're studying in the US--no Canadian addresses allowed) --within 7-14 business days for standard shipping and 5-8 days for expedited shipping.

Returning rented textbooks to Campus Book Rentals is especially easy--they provide a pre-printed, postage paid envelope, so you can slide the textbook into the envelope, seal it and drop it in any mailbox--you don't even have to log into your account to ensure a fully-trackable return label.

Skoobit is a bit different from the other services--it markets itself the Netflix of textbooks. Instead of charging different rates according to each individual title's value, Skoobit charges a monthly service charge per each book currently "out". Each monthly fee continues until the book is returned, and shipping is free, both ways. Monthly plans are defined as:

--Summer School Plan:  45 days for $24.99 per book (limit 3 books)--May-August
--Quarterly Plan:  3 months for 13.99 per month per book (unlimited number of books)
--Semester Plan: 4 months for 10.99 per month per book (unlimited number of books)
--Semester Select Plans: 4 months select plan for 59.99 a month, where you can rent up to 6 books or 79.99 a month, where you can rent up to 8 books.

Skoobit offers a 14 day free trial to new customers; just log in within the 14-day period to cancel membership. There's also a full refund available on all rentals within 15 days of an order and a 50% refund on rentals within 30 days. If you tend to drop classes often, this is the least convenient refund of the ones I've reviewed.

Of course, these are only a few of the textbook rental services available. I also found Why Rent Books?, which lets students not only rent books, but rent out their own textbooks to other students. 

None of the services I found rent to students with Canadian addresses. If readers know of any online Canadian textbook rental services, please share.

Finally, not all rentals come with their associated CDs/DVDs/software keys, so caveat emptor and caveat rentor. OK, I made that one up...I don't have a Latin textbook handy. Let the buyer, and the renter, beware.

Happy studying!

posted on: 8/11/2009 10:30:00 AM by Julie Bestry
category: Paper

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Discuss This Post

by safepethaven on 8/11/2009 11:18:24 PM:

In answer to your initial questions 1 and 3, actually quite often, because after retiring from classroom teaching of math, chem, physics, & computer sci., I kept up with it through tutoring; so in total, for 41 years to date.. After changing from classroom teaching and trying the 3 pc suit/corporate route [shudder] and associated company promo/xfer, I realized at age 30 that I was not likely to need or use most of the texts I'd saved for reference, except for my 3 teaching fields, and my sheet music. So with two public libraries within a 2 mile radius, I donated most of those books and even ones I did not want to, I justified my decision that if I did need to refer to them I could always check them out from the library or refer my tutoring students to them. Wrong. One library kept some of my advanced math/sci. texts; in fact there is still a differential eq'ns text that is there after 30 yrs, because at least a handful of students check it out per semester. The other local library did not keep a single book I'd donated and within six months not one was to be had; likely donated to the nearest dumpster [those were pre-public-recycling days], so my intended generosity was a big ole' flop. And it's not like there were full shelves in the math/science/technology sections. In fact they were essentially bare. Nothing above the fifth grade. And then those in authority scratch their heads when looking at the performances between this country and so many others in those subjects. ((Sigh))... Our educational system in general? Won't even waste the keystrokes to comment; suffice it to say it breaks my heart. I might be able to come up with the answers to your question #2 because that was drilled into us in our social studies/history/geography/civics classes in the 7th grade (circa 1963). But I might need awhile to find that mental file folder from 46 years ago! So now you know why I have so many book cases/shelves, and why they are all full. On the other hand, I have not one romance novel or paperback to my name - except for sewing reference books and third party computer manuals - so I don't just keep everything in print, 'just because' it is a book; I really have and do pass along books regularly. Can I throw one in the garbage? No. But I can donate it, so that ultimately someone else can. There's good scientific logic, eh?

by Julie Bestry (Paper Doll) on 8/12/2009 11:12:12 PM:

While we've generally (previously) covered what to do with books we're ready to set free, another (often better) option for older, perceived-as-out-of-date textbooks and other books is to donate them to your library's BOOK SALE. This is different from donating to the library for the collections; almost all library systems have at least one annual book sale, like a bake sale, to raise revenues.

by Debt Settlement Program on 8/17/2009 3:11:40 PM:

charming post. due one unimportant where I bicker with it. I am emailing you in detail.

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Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles

by Julie Bestry

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