Book rentals soften students’ spending

<p>Psychology books are some of the ones available for rental through the St. Thomas bookstore. (Rebecca Omastiak/TommieMedia)</p>
Psychology books are some of the ones available for rental through the St. Thomas bookstore. (Rebecca Omastiak/TommieMedia)

With the spring semester under way, St. Thomas students are once again facing a costly task: purchasing textbooks for their classes. However, the book rental program, which is in its third semester at the bookstore, gives students a cheaper option than buying used or new books.

The program started during the 2009 spring semester and allows students to pay 40 percent of the textbook cost instead of 75 percent for a used book or full price for new books. Books in the program are marked with a green “rentable” sticker. Students simply need their I.D. to rent these books.

Even though there are a limited number of books that can be rented, the program has been fairly successful.

“We are about 75 percent rented out right now,” bookstore director Tony Erickson said.

Bookstore employee and senior Chantal Lenway agreed.

“I think it has been really successful,” Lenway said. “It’s a lot cheaper. It’s a better option for people who are paying for their own books.”

The bookstore offers rentable textbook options for psychology, theology and statistics courses.

Many students who are unaware of this program are intrigued by the option.

“If it costs less money then yeah, I’m all for it,” said senior Elizabeth Frei. “I’ve had semesters where I have spent like $600 and even when you do sell your books back you only get a small fraction of what you paid, and it really doesn’t seem fair.”

A study conducted by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that textbook prices nearly tripled from 1986 to 2004. According to a report, students spend an average of $900 per year on textbooks and other course materials.

Web sites widen options for renting books

Several students have resorted to using online textbook rental programs to save money. Junior Wendy Lor and senior Tony Gerten have used the website to order their books.

“It’s so much cheaper,” Lor said. “If you look at a regular textbook at St. Thomas, it’s like $175 for a business textbook whereas I paid maybe $30 and you get it for the whole semester. They also allow you to extend that [deadline]… It’s a just a few dollars more.”

Gerten had a similar experience.

“The St. Thomas bookstore charged well over $100 for a textbook, which is outrageous,” he said. “To buy the book new from a vendor online, it was usually listed as $80 or thereabouts, which is still pretty bad. With Chegg, it was $30 to rent it.” is also environmentally friendly.

“This company is really big about saving paper,” Lor said. “Every time you rent a book they plant a new tree so you’re kind of covering your butt when it comes to recycling and sustainability.”

Gerten recommends students use this textbook rental Web site to possibly drive bookstore prices down.

“If enough students buy books from Chegg and similar sites, the UST bookstore will be forced to lower its prices to compete,” he said.

Up-and-coming technologies create more choices

According to the Chronicle of Higher Learning Web site, many universities are introducing e-textbooks, as they generally cost about half the price of a printed textbook. With up-and-coming technologies like Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iPad, the process of purchasing course materials may experience an overhaul.

The St. Thomas bookstore is willing to embrace these new technologies, if tentatively.

“If it becomes available for textbooks, yes. We have a few e-books but those haven’t caught on here. Students like books to highlight and read,” Erickson said.

Rebecca Omastiak can be reached at