Barnes & Noble's textbook rental service could create a larger audience for the industry.

Barnes & Noble's textbook rental service could create a larger audience for this growing market.

Bookseller Barnes & Noble Inc. is launching a textbook rental program for college students, making it the newest entrant in a growing field, and officials at book rental services say the announcement will raise college students’ awareness of the burgeoning market.

The new program, available though campus bookstores or the stores’ web sites, began as a pilot program in three campus bookstores in the fall. It has now been expanded to 25 bookstores.

Some college bookstores that will offer the program include Ohio State University, the University of Maryland, Borough of Manhattan Community College, and the University of South Carolina.

Barnes & Noble said books will rent for 42.5 percent of their original price, so a $100 book would cost $42.50 to rent for the entire term. Textbooks can be rented at book stores or online—with online orders shipped to a campus bookstore.

College students spend about $667 per year on required course materials, according to the National Association of College Stores.

Mahdi Maghsoodnia, CEO of, a California-based company that launched its rental web site in August 2008, said college students are still largely unaware of the cheap prices on rental sites, and Barnes & Noble’s national recognition could prompt cash-strapped students to research textbook rental options.

“It’s a great sign that the customers are asking for it, and it’s the kind of service you just can’t avoid anymore,” he said. “It brings a new level of awareness among students. … They’re educating our customer base, and this brings the whole customer base into renting.”

Tina Couch, a spokeswoman for, said the demand for college textbooks requires a substantial online rental market. A national chain can cater to the ready-made customer base of about 20 million students who need an average of 12 books every year, she said.

“There’s a lot of room for growth in the textbook rental industry,” Couch said.

Barnes & Noble entering the market, she said, “will definitely increase category awareness and give students more choices and ultimately, greater savings. We welcome them into the textbook renting business.”

The effort is operated through the New York company’s subsidiary Barnes & Noble College Booksellers LLC. Barnes & Noble bought the Barnes & Noble College Booksellers unit back from its chairman last year in a deal worth $596 million.

College textbook rental programs have been around for decades but have recently begun to generate more interest, in part because Congress last year set aside $10 million to provide grants for college bookstores to start rental programs, said Kathy Mickey, senior analyst and managing editor of the Education Group at Simba Information.

Follett Higher Education Group, one of the biggest college bookstore operators, also started a textbook rental program in the fall and said this month that it’s expanding the program to about 22 campuses.

Online sites such as and academic publishers such as Cengage Learning also started textbook rental programs last year. (See “College textbook rentals gaining traction.”)

“There has been heightened interest in textbook rental programs,” said Mickey. Through 2008, about 2 percent of college bookstores offered such programs, but “that’s picking up,” she said.

Web sites and offer college books for up to nine months, and students can search for books by title, author, or ISBN., launched in 2007, has shipped books to students at more than 6,000 U.S. colleges and universities, a spokeswoman said.

The company says it saves students up to 85 percent off the cost of textbooks, trimming overall student textbook costs by more than $40 million over the past two years. reportedly carries two million book titles. allows highlighting in textbooks, but the web site warns against excessive highlighting.

“A book returned with every other line of every page highlighted is overdoing it,” according to the site. does not allow any highlighting or writing in rented books.

Students mail the books back to the rental companies when the rental period—which ranges from a month to a semester—has expired. charges 20 percent of the book’s price if it isn’t returned on time.

The textbook rental market can be tricky, Mickey said, because professors must use the same books for several semesters for book-rental companies to make money on the programs.

“There clearly is new interest in textbook rental programs, but are they going to click any more than they have over the last many decades, who knows?” Mickey said.


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