As you (or your children) prepare for college, doing a textbook rental comparison could save you considerable financial pain. What most people envision when they think about the typical college student is someone living in a cramped dorm room, eating ramen noodles at every meal, and consistently strapped for cash.
While the first two may be rather inaccurate stereotypes, the latter is not that far off. The average student struggles to some degree financially, and as college expenses rise, it's becoming more difficult to fund an education. I've taken some of the legwork out of reducing these costs by doing a textbook rental comparison for you.
College Book Rentals
In recent years, the costs associated with student life have skyrocketed. According to the College Board, a non-profit organization committed to helping college students succeed, you should plan to budget about $1200 per year for books and supplies. Individual college textbooks can set you back a whopping $200 - $400 each.
Tuition alone can put a significant strain on families whose budgets are already strained trying to give their child a good education. For adults seeking higher education while juggling a family and bills, additional expenses like pricey supplies can potentially put this dream right out of reach.
Online Book Rental to the Rescue
Fortunately, a number of textbook rental sites have come onto the scene. Now instead of paying retail price for brand new textbooks, students can rent them for a fraction of the cost.
Students certainly benefit directly from this alternative to purchasing college books, and there is another money-saving consequence as well. As a representative from the NACS (National Association of College Stores) points out, the rental trend has forced publishers to offer more competitive pricing, particularly on digital materials.
Textbook rental companies range from big players to more personalized service, giving you plenty of choices when it comes time to choose your provider. My textbook rental comparison of the top sites should help in your quest to save money.
Book Rental Sites: What to Consider
To find a textbook rental website that ensures quality, reliability and affordability review the following considerations including cost, the website's ease of use, array of textbooks, shipping rates, and speed as well as customer service feedback.
- Cost: Does it fall within your price range or budget?
- Website's ease of use: How easy is the site's navigation or moving from one page to another? Is it categorically laid out for simple searches?
- Textbooks available: What sort of selection does the site offer?
- Shipping/delivery speeds: Are the shipping rates reasonably priced and do they offer expedient delivery times?
- Customer service reviews: Were other customers generally satisfied with their order?
Book Rental Sites
Amazon Book Rental Review
- Large selection of popular textbooks
- Great prices
- eTextbook option for Kindle with School List feature
- Free shipping with Prime and orders over $35
- Free return shipping
- You buy book if over 15 days late
- No guarantee of supplementary materials
You already know Amazon dominates book sales, boasting a 65% market share on ebooks alone, according to Publishers Weekly. What you may not know is that they offer a great deal on textbook rental as well.
The prices are typically lower than anywhere else. My analysis showed that on average, it costs about a quarter of the retail price or less to rent textbooks from Amazon. This number may vary, however, because books are provided by different sellers. This matters because not all sellers rent to all states, so the provider with the lowest price may not service your state. Despite this potential variance, Amazon remains a reliable source for renting cheap textbooks.
You can also rent textbooks electronically, which comes with a handy search feature which allows you to find out which books you need for a specific school. With rental ebooks, you're free to highlight in multiple colors, and extensions are available for as little as one day.
If you choose a hard copy for your college textbook rental needs, you'll be able to choose a 15-day extension. The catch is that if you don't return the book within 15 days following the extension you will be charged full price to keep the book. Amazon also asks that you keep highlighting to a minimum. A minor issue is that this is not quantified so it's tough to tell exactly how much highlighting is permitted with Amazon textbook rental.
Overall Amazon is a great choice among the top textbook rental websites. The prices are very affordable, you get the reputation and dependability of the most prominent online marketplace, and all of the normal free shipping options apply (Prime or orders over $35, which frankly, if you're renting textbooks you will easily meet this). All of these features earn Amazon.com the top spot on my list of the best textbook sites.
Campus Book Rental Review
- Free shipping on textbook rentals
- 21-day risk-free returns
- 15-day grace period
- Re-rentals available for 30 percent of original price
- Facility for selling personal textbooks
- Limited shipping options
If you want a quick, convenient, and simple way to rent textbooks for college, Campus Book Rentals has got you covered. This reputable and popular service provider has helped many students circumvent the high costs and hassle associated with purchasing books. In operation since 2007, Campus Book Rentals has extended numerous promotions, including a 15-day grace period, and discounted re-rental fee (30 percent). What's more, they boast a 21-day risk-free return policy plus free returns.
There are many convenient features that come with this site, including a tailored return date schedule on any rented book as well as a live customer support center. The one drawback is that shipping options are limited. On the site, there's a section where you can sell used or new textbooks - provided through FirstClassBooks.
Campus Book Rentals is accredited by the Better Business Bureau, which has given it a B rating. The provider has decent reviews on consumer sites such as Knoji.com. While Campus Book Rentals definitely has a lot going for it, be mindful of the pros and cons before making a decision.
All in all, this is a very solid, reliable, and popular textbook rental site that offers some invaluable features and benefits for students who want to save money on the cost of buying books.
BookRenter.com Book Rental Review
- A great choice of textbooks to select from
- Website that is simple and easy to get around
- A variety of shipping options available
- Social media integration to keep you up to date
- A range of rental options plus the ability to extend for a small fee
- Shorter refund period
- No overnight or international shipping
As the name of the site suggests, this service provider is all about renting books, enabling students with big ambitions and small budgets to obtain the textbooks they need in order to advance their studies. Another great thing about this rental site is that it has a large selection of available textbooks, which means that you stand a greater chance of finding the exact edition you need.
The site uses social media integration to enable customers to stay up-to-date on what's going on with the company. It also offers a live chat feature, which adds to the effectiveness of the company's customer service.
In addition to offering rentals, Book Renter allows you to purchase and sell textbooks at your own price. There are various rental options available to suit your needs as well as an extension period for those who want to prolong the length of their rental (for a fee). You can choose from a range of shipping options and the return period is 21 days. Be aware, however, that there is no overnight or international shipping available.
As a BBB accredited business, Book Renter has earned the highest rating of an A+. User ratings on Knoji.com are good and on Trust Pilot are average. For those who want to have access to a wide range of textbooks through a reliable company, Book Renter is a good choice.
eCampus Book Rental Review
- Wide range of rental options
- Years of experience in the industry
- Access to a range of other products (collegiate gear, DVDs, etc)
- International shipping
- Free shipping over $59
- Website difficult to navigate
For students who are looking for a textbook rental company that offers international shipping, eCampus might be the perfect choice. This is a feature that sets the provider apart from other companies and places it a step ahead of the rest.
eCampus offers free shipping on orders over $59 plus access to discounted collegiate merchandise (t-shirts, hats, etc). eCampus has over a decade of experience in the textbook rental industry, and has become a trusted resource among students who want to save some serious dough. Not in the market for textbooks? You can also purchase Blu Ray discs and DVDs from the company!
A varied selection of textbook rental periods are available, including a 180-day option. The biggest drawback with this website is the fact that it's a bit disorganized so navigating the pages can get tricky.
eCampus is accredited by the Better Business Bureau and has received an A. Ratings and reviews on consumer sites such as Yelp, Epinions, and Trustpilot range from average to good. With its variety of shipping options as well as its long winded history, this provider earns the second spot on our list.
eCampus proves to be a suitable provider for students, in particular those who need books to be shipped outside the United States.
- Free shipping both ways
- Prompt delivery
- Online coupons available
- Customer service available by phone
- Flexible choices for rental period length
- Higher prices than most textbook rental sites
- Small, cluttered text on website
Knetbooks is fairly young, and it shows in some ways. The company was started in 2009 and acquired by another company in 2011 (although it's unclear who that company is). After several years of being in business the website is still hard on the eyes and slightly amateurish looking. But don't count these guys out just yet - they have some attractive qualities to offer if you're looking for online book rental.
Knetbooks offers free shipping both ways on their book rentals, which is unusual in the industry. Their search function is very easy to use, whereas larger sites can get a bit complex and overwhelming. They also offer more rental period options than typical book rental services. Choose short-term, quarterly, or by the semester. This is perfect for the individual who may want to read a text for personal enrichment, so doesn't need it for a whole semester.
The truth is that those who are simply looking for cheap rental books will probably see Amazon as their most cost-effective option. Even though Knetbooks does tend to have higher prices, they offer a different kind of value to certain kinds of consumers. I found that the feel of the website is much more personal than larger companies. This can be an important deciding factor for many people no matter what they're investing money into.
In addition, Knetbooks is located near UPS world headquarters, which is why they have a slight advantage as far as delivery times. And if you have an issue, you can contact customer service by their contact form or by phone during weekdays. Price isn't always king - Knetbooks has some worthwhile features that helped it edge its way onto my list of the best textbook rental websites.
Online Textbook Rental: What to Do First
Before jumping headfirst into ordering your materials, there are a few things you should do to make sure the process goes as smoothly as possible.
- Make sure you have accurate information. Be sure you've got the correct title, authors' names, edition, publication year, and the ISBN. This will prevent you from accidentally getting a different version of your textbook rental.
- Find out what's actually required. Occasionally you may find that some materials are optional. Verify with your professor or other students exactly which elements are crucial and which you may be able to forego.
- Make sure you can get the accompaniments. If your online textbook rental lacks, for example, a necessary CD or other supplementary items, price these items to make sure that you can obtain them at a reasonable cost.
Be sure you've got the correct title, authors' names, edition, publication year, and the ISBN.
Read the Fine Print on Book Rental Sites
As I proceeded in my investigation to put together a comprehensive textbook rental comparison, I realized the fine print can vary as widely as the prices. College textbook rental companies each have a slightly different approach to certain aspects of using their service. This is why it's important to thoroughly read through all of the information before committing to one company or another. There's something for everyone, just make sure you're getting the perfect fit for your needs.
Length of Rental Term
Each cheap textbook rental website offers their wares for a specific length of time. For example Amazon rents by the semester. Some companies let you choose your own rental period, and others have a predetermined set of options from which to choose. This means that the best textbook sites may be very different for a student as opposed to, say, a professional in the sciences field looking to expand their knowledge base.
The extent to which a company will tolerate damage to rental books varies. While one company allows reasonable highlighting, another does not allow writing of any kind in their books. This is not always stated in so many words on the website, either. I found that it is sometimes expressed in a surreptitious way such as framed as "advice", so read everything carefully.
The best bet is to use side-page flags or tabs and sticky notes to make your notations. This way you avoid the hassle of worrying about whether your rental textbooks will pass muster when you return them.
In some cases, book rental providers use terms such as "limited highlighting" or "no excessive writing" to refer to their damage policies. If you do not adhere to this policy, you will be charged for the retail cost of the item and it will be yours to keep. The challenge in such cases is that these actions are not clearly defined. What's "excessive" to you may not be to someone else, making it difficult to tell how much to restrict your note-taking.
The best bet is to use side-page flags or tabs and sticky notes to make your notations. This way you avoid the hassle of worrying about whether your rental textbooks will pass muster when you return them. As an added bonus, if you use these methods you can retain your notes, which will come in handy if you need them later on.
While each provider's exact policies differ to some extent, there are some types of damage to rental textbooks that you should take extra care to prevent. The following are additional fairly universal problems which will prompt a company to charge you the replacement cost of the book:
- Liquid damage - particularly coffee, tea, and other beverages that stain. Some companies will even refuse materials with water exposure, due to the risk of mold and mildew growing on the pages.
- Tearing or pet damage - if Rover is a chewer, keep your rental textbooks out of his furry little reach. Rental book sites expect you to return their materials in comparable condition to when you got them, and if you can't, they'll charge you.
- The magical disappearing book - as nice as it would be if we could insure college textbook rentals against loss or theft (even campus bookstores only offer coverage against damage), if you lose your online book rental you're out of luck.
While the significant cost savings are worth the effort of renting over buying, you do need to be extra careful with the materials.
Alternatives to Book Rental Sites
I think you're going to find my textbook rental comparison so compelling that you'll choose from my list of the best book rental sites for your supply needs. Rising college expenses dictate a creative solution to high supply costs. But just in case you decide not to go this route, there are a few other college textbook options you may consider:
- Buy Used - Most college bookstores have a used section where you can buy used textbooks at a significant discount. You can also get in touch with students who took the course last semester and see if they'd be willing to sell you their books for less.
- Comparison Shop - Do an online search to check textbook prices at different retailers. The online market has a ton of texts, new and used, at steep discounts. Check out Amazon, eBay, eCampus, and Half.com for great deals. Just make sure you factor shipping into the cost when comparing prices.
- Use The Library - If you can check out all your required reading for the semester at the library before anyone else, you may be able to skip on textbook costs altogether.
The Federation of State PIRGs (Public Interest Research Groups) reports that 65% of college students have chosen not to buy a textbook due to the high cost. Fortunately, you have other options.
Financial Aid and Online Book Rental
Particularly if you're a first-time student, you may be concerned about how financial aid will work if you choose to rent rather than buy. After all, you already know the campus bookstore will be happy to accept your financial aid for the full retail price of purchased texts.
The fact is that even if you get a grant or other non-loan form of college financial aid, once your school tuition is paid you will typically receive a check for the balance. You are free to use this money to purchase supplies wherever you wish. Of course, if you take out student loans you will be able to use that money wherever you deem appropriate as well.
Renting a book as opposed to buying it new saves money in the short and long run because once a class is over most students won't use their textbook again. And more often than not, the publishers release a newer edition the following semester which makes the older one obsolete and nearly impossible to resell. Of course, the tricky part is finding the right textbook rental service. I hope I've made that task a little easier for you.