Money-Saving Textbook Rentals Catch on with Students
By Buzz McClain
“Rent, Learn, Return.”
The Mason Bookstore textbook rental program’s slogan is certainly descriptive enough, but it could add two more verbs, namely, “save” and “donate.”
Textbook rentals arrived at Mason in the spring of 2010 as a testing ground for the Barnes & Noble bookstore chain’s pilot rental program. The national retailer is the largest in the United States, with more than 700 stores and 636 college locations. The chain says it serves more than 4.6 million students and faculty at those campus shops, including Mason’s, where B&N operates the bookstores for all the school’s campuses.
The corporation watched the response by Mason students to see if textbook rentals were a viable business model–would students actually temporarily own a book and return it as if at a library?–and the answer was a resounding Yes. Last year 11 percent of the Mason Bookstores’ sales were rentals, saving students some $200,000. That figure is expected to go higher as the program catches on.
When students return in the fall, they’ll find 49 percent of all the books carried by the store available for rent. Not all books are rentable, says Mason Bookstore general manager Barb Headley. This is due to consumable components and the likelihood of the book being used again. And yes, even though you ran a yellow highlighter through the paragraphs you needed to memorize and despite your doodles in the margins, the bookstore will take your book back at the end of the semester–just don’t get it wet.
“They have to be in salable condition for resale or re-rental,” Headley says. Surprisingly, “most of them are pristine” when they come back at the end of the semester.
Besides getting the book wet, don’t lose it either, or you’ll pay the used book rate plus a handling fee.
“No one loses them at the beginning of the semester,” Headley has observed. “They tend to lose them at the end of the semester.” She adds that 87 percent of the books are returned on time and a mere 5 percent are returned after their “final” warning about incurring charges.
Book rentals are a good deal for students, she says, because it reduces their upfront cost by 50 percent. A $100 textbook is $50 to rent, using a credit card to secure the transaction and to activate the e-mail reminders about when the books are due.
Portions of the revenue the university receives from the bookstore help fund University Life programs, undergraduate research, athletic scholarships, and the Fall for the Book festival that brings writers to the campus each September. (Additionally, the B&N chain donates $100,000 to Habitat for Humanity from proceeds of rentals.)
Chances are very good that the bookseller behind the counter at a Mason bookstore will be a student. The stores employ some 80 to 120 students to run the counters and stock the shelves, with some of them working for the store between classes their entire college career. And if they like the business, B&N has a management program that guarantees them a professional position with the company when they graduate.
To read more stories about Mason, check out the university’s News site.