Textbook Prices: Buying or Renting?

There are millions of places that offer learning services, such as K-12 schools, colleges, religious places, etc. Attending K-12 schools is much easier than attending colleges because students get the opportunity to take classes and get books for free. Looking at college students, one can find that many of them and their families struggle to find enough money to pay for education, and it is already a big problem.

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In particular, many students are unwilling or unable to earn money to pay for textbooks. One problem that all students face every semester is the need to purchase textbooks for their classes instead of renting them. This essay is aimed at comparing two ways of getting necessary learning materials, such as buying new books and renting them. Based on the conducted analysis, the paper argues that renting textbooks or buying affordable second-hand books would be more convenient for students due to the ability to cut down expenses.

Book prices and the limited availability of textbooks for rent affect students’ budgets in a severe way. To begin with, the problem of soaring textbook prices has been widely studied by both professional researchers and organizations protecting students’ rights. In 2014, a national survey of more than 2000 university students demonstrated that as much as 54% of respondents expressed significant concerns related to textbook prices (Walz 2).

Worse still, more than one-third of all research participants said that they could not afford all required textbooks without raising more money (Walz 2). 84% of people in that subgroup reported taking a second job or adding hours to their shifts to purchase all learning materials (Walz 2). According to another study, 65% of U.S. college students skip purchasing required books and other materials since they cannot afford them (Kristof). At the same time, less than 7% of students do not think that the absence of textbooks will affect their grades (Senac 4). Therefore, it cannot be denied that textbook prices’ influence on students’ personal finance decisions is enormous.

Many universities set their own prices for educational materials since they offer unique versions of textbooks. The University of Michigan is among the colleges that have high textbook prices for higher-level classes; in some instances, a single book can cost up to $200 or even $300 (M Flint). The University of Michigan will serve as one of the examples due to my experience with taking classes there. Attending college increases the chances of having a better future, but textbooks are expensive for most of the students.

From my conversations with other students, it is clear that many of them are unhappily surprised due to the amount of money they are supposed to spend on books. The average student spends $1200 and more per one year of education, including book expenses (Senac 4). The price tags on these books can be astonishing, and they usually keep climbing, so renting is supposed to be an easy way to optimize costs.

When students rent their textbooks, they pay, on average, less than half the price of a new textbook. To draw comparisons between the store and rental prices at the University of Michigan, it is possible to consider price information provided by the university’s Official Flint Bookstore. For instance, the most recent edition of Economics Evolving, authored by Sandmo, retails for $49.95, whereas the used version can be rented for six months for $23.75 (M Flint). The eleventh edition of International Business by Hill costs $304.65 for a hard-cover new book but can also be rented as an e-book and a physical book for $52.5 and $127.95, respectively (M Flint).

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The book titled Preparing Effective Business Plans by Barringer can be purchased new for $74.80 or rented used for $35.15, which allows saving more than 50% (M Flint). Rental programs are considered a good alternative to buying textbooks, but rental prices still depend on the costs of new books (Senac 4). As the examples above demonstrate, those taking courses at the University of Michigan can decrease their expenses by at least fifty percent by renting books instead of buying them.

Although renting new or used books allows reducing college expenses, the problem is related to the limited availability of this option. For instance, some required textbooks, including the tenth edition of Business and Society by Carroll, can only be purchased and are not available in digital formats (M Flint). To access the mentioned product, the student is offered to pay $166.65 for a new book or $125 for a used one, and both prices are hard to be considered student-friendly (M Flint). Taking the abovementioned facts into account, it is clear that financially disadvantaged college students may struggle with finding appropriate alternatives to buying textbooks.

Modern researchers recognize the uncontrollably increasing textbook prices are a major concern, which explains why purchasing textbooks is not the best option for students. As the price analysis by Walz suggests, the costs of college textbooks increased by more than eight times (864%) between 1978 and 2013 (1). One of the main reasons why textbooks are so expensive is because publishers are free to make pricing decisions on their own, which often leads to overpricing.

Moreover, publishers are accustomed to renewing books once in a while. In general, the majority of publishers launch new editions of books triennially or quadrennially, and prices tend to increase by 12% with every new edition (Senac 7). Extremely high text acquisition costs are the reason why university bookstores have to set higher prices in order to increase their insufficient profits (Williamson et al. 131). Anyway, it would be much more useful to return books instead of throwing them after each semester.

It happens that students cannot return textbooks due to the presence of specific digital codes in them. Many of my friends bought books and threw them away in their houses because they could not use them again. Therefore, I find renting textbooks a good option to save learning materials from being abandoned and misused. After each semester, students can get rid of the unnecessary textbooks by using a free return. Students need to return the rented textbooks by a certain date; therefore, they do not waste them for no reason. Some students prefer to keep their textbooks for future references, such as studying for MCAT or other big tests. When renting textbooks, learners can check if the services offer rental period extensions, but books for rent may be unavailable for some courses.

When most of the books are not available for rent, it forces students to pay for them from their pockets if they do not have any financial aid money left. When visiting my university’s library, I heard many students talking about buying textbooks. They complained that they had been required to use the editions of textbooks published exclusively for their college, which made it impossible to find books in the textbook rental market. For some students, renting books becomes harder than buying textbooks. It is because publishers release new editions of particular textbooks each semester, which eliminates the resale value of student-used textbooks, thus preventing students from buying second-hand books.

The practice of packaging a textbook with CDs and passcodes that expire or can be lost is another challenge for college students. As the U.S. Public Interest Research Group reports, about 40% of college courses require working with materials with access codes (Kristof). Such textbooks cannot be returned or sold, so the only way for students to get them is to purchase new books. In particular, it often happens in high-level classes, where it gets hard to rent textbooks.

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Last winter, I took a high-level math class, calculus one, where I had to pay half of the class tuition cost. When I went to purchase a textbook, I found the prices to be extremely high. However, just like other students, I had no choice but to buy the textbook in order to work on my assignments. I was not allowed to rent the textbook because it had a passcode and a CD. Unfortunately, I used neither the passcode nor the CD because my professor did not like that kind of online assignment and activities. I could not use cheaper second-hand textbooks because only the newest version of the book was required. Most of the professors would let me use an older version for their classes, but some instructors are strict and demanding when it comes to requirements concerning book editions.

Despite challenges linked to access to textbooks, most of the students believe that people that take college education seriously will find a way to pay for tuition and other necessities. As long as they do not give up education, I do not see an issue with this aspect. It is good to suffer and find alternatives just to learn more and finish college. However, this idea is not universal because there are many people who are studying to be in the medical field. These students are required to study for more than eight years. It would be hard for them to find enough money to buy textbooks for each of their classes. Therefore, students should have the option of buying used books.

Buying used textbooks is the simplest evident solution that allowed the product to equal free. The established bookshops frequently deal out of employed volumes promptly, getting students who get on this early day of classes to pay the full retail price for a new book. Students who shop online always get the opportunity to buy cheaper used books that can be better than new books. Second-hand textbooks can be new from the inside and have no written notes or scratches on the pages.

However, book covers look old in such cases, which is why they are not new anymore. Therefore, it is critical to avoid judging a book by its cover. If the used book has all of its pages and it is still readable, the used version is just as useful as a brand new copy. The condition of the cover or a few bent pages will not impact students’ ability to read a book or create problems with doing homework and working with the assigned readings.

Buying a second-hand textbook also allows benefiting from selling it after the semester ends. When students rent books, they cannot sell them and derive benefits. However, after buying used books, they can sell them or even rent them online to get paid once in a while after each rent. That would save the student a lot of money besides renting because some students do not like to rent. The reason why they prefer buying used books over renting is that they can write some comments and highlight any good information for their courses. Furthermore, renting and buying used books are the best money-saving options for students.

To sum up, purchasing new textbooks is not the best way to get learning materials due to increasing textbook prices. Because of publishers’ poorly-controlled pricing policies, many students have to find alternatives (renting books or searching for second-hand items) or even get themselves additional jobs just to have everything required for their courses. Renting books involves less significant financial hardships on students since new textbooks are at least twice as expensive as books for rent.

Perhaps we need to choose our course texts more carefully and realize that we do not always need to use texts at all. The University of Michigan needs to let students rent books or use second-hand books, especially for the expensive textbooks that come with CDs or passcodes. Without the problem of overpriced books, it would be a whole lot easier for students to have the courage to finish their education.

Works Cited

Kristof, Kathy. “What’s behind the Soaring Cost of College Textbooks.CBS News. 2018. Web.

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Senac, Ethan. Fixing the Broken Textbook Market: How Students Respond to High Textbook Costs and Demand Alternatives. Center for Public Interest Research, Inc., 2014.

M Flint. Barnes & Noble College, 2019. Web.

Walz, Anita R. “Textbook and Homework Access Code Costs in Higher Education: Student, Academic Dean and Department Head Perspectives on Costs and Implications for Learning.Virginia Tech. 2017. Web.

Williamson, Stan, et al. “Sticker Shock: Management Professors’ Perspectives on the Rising Costs of College Textbooks.” Administrative Issues Journal: Connecting Education, Practice, and Research, vol. 1, no. 1, 2016, pp. 130-139.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, July 2). Textbook Prices: Buying or Renting? Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/textbook-prices-buying-or-renting/

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