Thursday, August 23, 2007

Another Player In The Textbook Arena

On August 6th, we talked about the textbook dilemma facing American students here.

In that post, I quoted the study that the federal Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance (ACSFA) released in May on the cost of college textbooks, including recommendations on what could be done to make them more affordable.

Among the eight categories of solutions, the ACSFA recommended that universities implement a textbook rental program.

This idea isn't new. The Raleigh News & Observer reported earlier this week that North Carolina's Appalachian State University instituted a textbook rental program in 1938. "Now it's so popular it's a recruiting tool for the university."

The News & Observer reports: "In March, the UNC Board of Governors passed rules designed to reduce the cost of textbooks. Most notably, by January 2008, each campus must have either a book rental program or a system to guarantee that books for large introductory courses would be bought back at a set price."

Nearly two years ago in 2005, Senator Charles Schumer (D.-N.Y.) estimated that textbook rental programs would save students in New York state approximately $266 million a year.

Now there's a company poised to take advantage of all the attention being paid to textbook rentals.

Chegg (as in "chicken or egg") was started in 2003 by Iowa State University students as a campus online marketplace for textbooks. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the company "was born out of the founders' frustration with the used-book buying policies at their university bookstore, which buys books from students for a pittance then sells them to other students at a markup."

Using a model similar to Craigslist, Chegg eventually added access to computers, housing, events tickets, furniture and other items/services students need. Chegg can be found here. It expanded across the country, incorporated in 2005, and now has a presence at more than 2,000 campuses across the U.S. Last July, a group of investors offered the company a $500,000 cash infusion. Then they got another $2.2 million in funding last December.

On July 31, 2007, Chegg issued a press release, announcing the launch of Textbookflix, a new textbook rental service. Located here, Textbookflix allows students to rent textbooks at a cost up to 60% below retail price.

The program works this way:

  • Textbookflix has more than two million titles available and ships from locations around the country in order to insure the fastest possible arrival
  • The average rental price is 40% off the book's list price, although some textbooks are rented for up to a 60% discount
  • There are no monthly subscription fees
  • The student registers and enters his/her list of needed textbooks. The books are shipped within one or two days with an estimated arrival time of two to four days after that
  • The student is charged $6.99 shipping for the first book and $2 for each additional book. The return shipping cost is included in the rental price. The student prints off a return label from the "My Account" section of the company's website
  • If the "My Account" section has a "Buy Me" button next to the book's title, the student can purchase the book at a discount
  • The student has a two-week grace period in which to return the book for a full refund if the course is cancelled or if the student decides to drop the course. After the two-week period, the student will be charged a 50% penalty
  • Books must be returned by the date the school semester ends (or the student must contact the company to ask for more time). After the day the semester ends, there is a $25 late fee assessed. A week after the semester ends, the student is charged the full cost of the book
  • Limited highlighting of important passages within the book is permitted. Writing in the book is not

It will be interesting to see the impact Textbookflix has on the market.


The Anti-Wife said...

Stephen Parrish suggested I stop by and I'm glad I did. I really enjoy your blog. When I first went to college (a long time ago), textbook rental for basic required courses was the norm. As long as you didn't write in the book or destroy it in any other fashion, you could return it at the end of the quarter and get a partial refund.

I think it's a good program for those of limited means and for courses you have to take but aren't really interested in - like physics!

Maya Reynolds said...

Hi, AW: Thanks to Stephen for the referral, and thanks to you for stopping by.

I can remember when it took my entire part-time paycheck to cover my semester's books.