Amazon Rental: Are e-books and rental actually cheaper?

Today’s big news is Amazon’s announcement about their new rental service. It’s an interesting concept, and an addition to the ongoing story of cost. Many outlets, like VentureBeat, are framing the story in a larger concept: digital is where things are going, and digital and rental save students money.

But the past week, we’ve been sharing the opposite: the hype around rental and digital (only bound to get worse) is blinding students to the real costs of textbooks, and that used books are still largely the best bet. posted a press release discussing the differences in cost between reselling books, renting them, or downloading some form of e-book. Contrary to what many students, who are dazzled by new options like renting and e-books, the data showed that the most cost-efficient form of dealing with textbooks is to buy used and back at the end of the semester. The example we released:

“The textbook Organizational Behavior by Stephen P. Robbins (ISBN 9780136124016), was on average $120.88 to buy used, $75.60 as an e-book and only $66.04 to rent. However, selling back the book for an average of $71.25 meant that the total cost of ownership was only $49.63 for those students who bought and resold the book. That’s $16.41 cheaper than renting, and a whopping $25.97 cheaper than the e-book.”

Because CampusBooks offers students price comparisons from all three forms of textbook acquiring, we had a ton of data to crunch for results.  The results are interesting because a major selling point of e-books and rentals is the supposed diminished cost of paper and reprinting.

However, the big point here is that e-books are digital, and often have limited access periods. Rental, as well, is temporary: you send that book back at the end of the semester. So, the student who saved money up front is left with nothing to show; there is no lasting value or resale value. That’s where used books make their come back: as actual, tangible products, they can be sold back.
So why are students choosing rental and e-books?

They’re presented with services like Chegg, and Kindles and iPads, which are, of course, tempting technological advances that can make a student’s life much easier by putting all of their books in the right place. That ease may be more important than saving around $20. Unless you’re using a service like CampusBooks, you actually have to go back to the bookstore,  navigate online forums and god forbid, go to the post office, to sell your books back.

But the important thing for money-savvy students to remember is the fact that sometimes putting the extra work in to save is worth it. Options like rental and using e-books may be easier, but they aren’t the most cost-efficient.

A valid counter-point is that buying used is gambling on the lack of a new edition the next year. I talked about this in a past post, but it’s still a gamble worth taking, in my opinion.

It’s really up to the student when it comes to their decision about whether they should sell their books, rent them, or download e-books. That’s always been the driving philosophy behind CampusBooks: presenting all of the options, so students can make their own decisions. Hopefully, with this information, they make one that’s more cost-efficient.

What do you think? What do you see as the driving influences behind student decisions? If you want to spend some time with our data, please contact the press contact with our release.

Comments (3)

  1. Pingback: A price comparison for e-books, and their lack of availability «

  2. Mickey

    Alot of times they trick you when you buy hardcovers when you try to sell it back…if a new edition comes out (which is likely to happen) then you can’t sell it back…and I’ve spent more then a hundred dollars on* textbooks & have gotten less then $20 back…now you can* rent ebooks for around $45 for three months some even cheaper then that….sounds cheaper to me

  3. Pingback: Amazon Enters Textbook Rental! This time renting physical books. «

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