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Will students buy or rent text books in the future
Article by Tim Dare, Managing Director – specialising in Education Publishing
How students consume textbooks is changing. Many are wondering if paying high upfront costs for course materials is worth it and whether they should rent instead.
According to a study from the University of Essex, textbook inflation has been 1,041 percent since 1977 – or four times the overall rate of inflation as measured by CPI. The average student now spends £630 per year on paper textbooks.
Given that costs are now getting so high, many students are wondering whether renting is a viable alternative.
Options Are Growing
Perhaps the biggest reason why students are more likely to rent books in the future is simply because now they have more options than ever before. CampusBooks found that rentals are gaining popularity, with 55 percent of students confirming that they have rented at least one book in the last year.
This is happening for several reasons. Firstly, rentals are more affordable. When students rent from on-campus bookstores and e-commerce sites, such as eBay, they avoid having to shell out hundreds of pounds upfront. Instead, they can spread the costs over a longer period and only pay for what they need.
Students also have access to the latest editions of textbooks when they rent. These often contain more useful content and offer a pedagogic advantage.
Renting is more convenient too. Students don’t need to arrange to sell their textbooks once they’ve finished with them.
But There Are Downsides
Whether renting will displace outright purchases entirely, though, remains to be seen. There are some significant downsides with the model.
Perhaps the biggest is late fees. Some colleges are known to charge up to £0.50 per hour a textbook is overdue. Forgetful or disorganised students, therefore, could end up paying hefty fines.
The pandemic plays into this too. Students don’t necessarily want to rent from bookstores where they could potentially expose themselves to the virus. It is better for them to order books online and then sell them when the risk is lower.
Students also need to be careful not to damage books. Rental terms may allow for “general wear and tear,” but not failure of the spine, missing pages, or notes made in the margins. Students may have to fork out money to compensate for the damage they cause, or purchase new books entirely. In extreme situations, it may even be necessary for them to take out insurance to cover their liability, adding to the overall cost.
Likewise, when students rent they may receive books in poor condition that make it harder to learn. Supplemental material could be missing or sections might be highlighted in a way that wasn’t the intention of the original publisher.
Rentals also eliminate the possibility of students recouping their costs via resale. Any rent they pay does not build up equity in their textbooks: it only purchases access to the material.
The Jury Is Still Out
Given the various downsides associated with renting books, it will not be a solution that every student embraces. Therefore, it will remain a mix: some students will buy, while others will rent, similar to many other markets. In the near-term, thanks to the pandemic, buying may dominate slightly. However, renting is likely to remain popular if students believe that they can put their capital towards other productive investments.
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