The University bookstore’s manager is projecting an increase in the popularity of its Rent-A-Text service this semester, after nearly 5,000 textbooks were rented before move-in weekend.
The store, currently in the midst of an aggressive new marketing campaign for the book rental program, is battling tougher competition with online rental and e-textbook companies.
To compete, the bookstore has increased the number of titles available for rent this year by 5 percent, bringing the number of rentable titles up to approximately 1,500.
“It will save the students a tremendous amount of money,” store manager Bob Blake said. “I think rental expands upon the variety of affordable choices for students, so they have new, used and now rental as an option.”
Blake said the bookstore rented out 4,535 books as Aug. 26 – slightly more than half of its spring 2011 total of 8,732. Last fall, the bookstore rented out about 11,000 books.
But the brick-and-mortar bookstore, which rents texts for at least 50 percent off of the sticker price, still has to compete with online retailers like Chegg.com, which touts average savings of 65 to 85 percent off the retail price.
The website boasts a larger textbook inventory, at approximately 25,000 books. It also offers online academic services and study guides.
“Chegg is more than just a textbook rental company,” Tina Warner, the company’s vice president of communications, said. “We have homework help, course selection, class notes, a tutorial marketplace and local deals…all in one location.”
But even rentals at the GW Bookstore might have a downside, Blake said. He wouldn’t provide specific figures, but said a decrease in book sales has followed the implementation of the rental program.
“Rental books are half the cost of a new book, so sales will be less,” Blake said. “A $100 book, now we are renting for $50.”
Blake declined to share the bookstore’s profits.
Many college bookstores began offering textbook rentals last year following widespread criticism and legislation aimed at making textbooks more affordable, director of public relations at the National Association of College Stores Charles Schmidt said.
Participation in textbook rental programs jumped from just 300 bookstores among the association in the fall of 2009, to nearly 2,200 in 2010, Schmidt said.
“Last year was truly the year of the rental,” Schmidt said. “The wholesale jump into offering the rentals is to show how they [bookstores] are being responsive to the market and the students.”
Rental is now the default option on the GW Bookstore’s website, and two blast e-mails in August pushed the option as well.
Regardless of the advertised rental discounts both in-person and online, sophomore Leah Herscovici said looking at multiple book dealers is important.
“Unfortunately all my books were basically the same price, so for me it was better to just get them on campus,” Herscovici, who rented some of her textbooks, said. “Pricing is still a little bit high.”