It Pays to Rent: Students turn to Chegg to combat high book prices

Orange boxes with rental textbooks from Chegg sit in the mailroom waiting to be picked up. Chegg.com is a textbook rental Web site that can cut textbook costs in half.
Orange boxes with rental textbooks from Chegg sit in the mailroom waiting to be picked up. Chegg.com is a textbook rental Web site that can cut textbook costs in half.

By Emily Landgraf
For college students across the country, including those at Rider, the cost of textbooks is an issue. Many courses require students to purchase expensive, albeit necessary, textbooks. So what can students do about the high cost of certain books?

Junior Kelli Franks, a dual major in elementary education and psychology, found Chegg.com to be especially helpful when she could not find a recommended textbook, Essentials of Oceanography, in the Rider bookstore.

Chegg rents textbooks to students, who then return them at the end of the semester. Students simply go to the site, find their books and pay an up-front fee for all of the books. When the student is done with the books, he or she prints out the return information and sends the books back, free of charge. Chegg plants a tree for every book that is rented, bought, sold or donated. Other sites such as Campusbookrentals.com, Cheapbooks.com and Skoobit.com also rent out textbooks, but Chegg seems to be the most popular.

“Well, for [oceanography], the book is not required for [the] lecture, but for the lab part it is recommended,” Franks said. “The school bookstore didn’t have it, so I went on Amazon.com to get the book, and they were asking for $100 to buy it. So, I found Chegg and found the book for 50- some-odd dollars, which was a lot cheaper than the other sites I went on to find the book.”

Junior journalism major Rae Volinsky has been using Chegg since she was a sophomore, and is happy with the money she has saved.

“I pay for my own books and am always looking for a way to save as much money as I can,” Volinsky said. “My freshman year, I used Amazon.com. I actually saw an advertisement for Chegg on Amazon, so I checked it out. Renting from Chegg saved me a lot of money and I have been using it ever since.”

Sophomore Chris Andrews, a dual major in finance and management and leadership, used Chegg for the first time this semester, and is happy with the experience and the price.

“I first heard about Chegg from my older brother, who also used the site when he was in college,” Andrews said. “I found that in the end Chegg.com usually ended up being cheaper than any other source. They have low rental rates, and they pay for the return shipping.”

Andrews also believes that the site itself is good for students.

“It is a really user-friendly site, and the books are a fraction of the cost compared to the bookstore,” he said.

Sophomore biology major Justin Belgrave has used Chegg in the past, and liked the idea of renting rather than buying.

“I think it doesn’t make sense to buy an expensive book that might not even pertain to one’s major when the textbook can just be rented,” he said. “I didn’t use Chegg this semester, but [I] did last semester. I thought the experience was pretty good.”

Not everyone is so fond of the idea of renting textbooks, though. Professor Shaikh Moizul Matin of the College of Continuing Studies believes that while renting may seem like a good idea, it could actually end up costing students much more in the long run. He advises students to buy used textbooks and sell them back, so they can get some or all of their money back.

Dr. Pamela Brown, a professor in the Department of Communication and Journalism, is not a big fan of textbooks, whether it is their content or their cost.

Brown believes that there are two major reasons why textbooks are so expensive: the way that they are marketed to faculty, and the cost of the content within the book.

According to Brown, when members of the faculty choose the textbooks for the courses they are teaching, they are not notified of the cost.

“When you review a textbook, it’s harder to take into account the cost because you aren’t provided with that information,” she said. “You are only looking at the content.”

The other problem is what goes into the textbook.

“[The publishing companies] waste a lot of money on pictures and other graphic elements that they think are essential to get students to read, which drives up the price,” Brown said. “I personally think that’s insulting to college students.”

Brown also believes that the content of most textbooks is too generalized.

“I kept changing texts to find something better and cheaper for students,” Brown said. “I did find one and used it for maybe four years. Still, a lot of the book was waste. I decided to experiment with something else, and I’m happy with it.”

Brown has opted for an inexpensive trade book called Freedom for the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment, which costs just $10 on Amazon.com.

So will Chegg.com and other rental sites drive Rider’s bookstores out of business? Not according to Lawrenceville store supervisor Joe Judge and Westminster store supervisor Millie Richardson, as well as recent news from Follett, the company that provides both Rider bookstores with textbooks.

“Competition, inclusive of Chegg, continues to grow, but it isn’t new to the bookstore,” Judge wrote in an e-mail. “This competition is great for the students and ultimately keeps our bookstore sharp in the goods and service we provide to the campus.”

Rider’s bookstores also offer E-books now which can be purchased and accessed on a computer.

According to Richardson, Chegg is a great program, and Follett has not ignored it. Rider’s bookstores may soon have the option to rent textbooks out to students through Follett.

Follett has “a program for renting textbooks that could be used at Rider in the fall of next year if we express an interest,” she said. “The school just had to call and tell [Follett] they’re interested.”

The program Richardson spoke about is Follett’s Early-to-Market Pilot. The program used this  2009 pilot to test “all aspects of its college textbook rental program, including student-specific research to gain their feedback,” according to a press release issued by the company on Jan. 15 of this year.

According to the release, the pilot program saved students at seven different schools $2 million in one term, and there are now 27 schools participating in the pilot. Follett “plans to expand this program to its 850 college and university campus bookstores.”

Additional reporting by Cathleen Leitch

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