College textbook rental services actually began cropping up in 2008, with startups such as Bookrenter.com borrowing from the business model of Netflix in letting students rent and return their books instead of shelling out hundreds of dollars a semester. But in 2010 this textbook distribution model really took off, aided by large companies such as Barnes & Noble getting into the act.
Last year, textbook rental company Chegg.com began letting students text queries about the availability of specific titles. The service logged 269 student text messages in August 2009.
A year later, that number had skyrocketed to more than 20,000 in August 2010, according to a case study published by Waterfall Mobile and Chegg.
A study released in September by the Student Public Interest Research Group showed that students will peruse the web for the best textbook rental deals and save hundreds of dollars every semester—but few students are willing to rent all of their books.
Ninety-three percent of students in the Student PIRG survey said they would rent “at least some of their textbooks,” with only 34 percent saying they would rent every college textbook.
Despite the growing popularity of low-cost textbook rental web sites like BookRenter and Chegg, there remains some demand for textbooks students can keep.
“Students know they’re going to use the book again, or want to refer back to it,” said Nicole Allen, a Student PIRG spokeswoman.
Still, using eBooks and textbook rental services can trim students’ annual book costs from around $900 to $600, according to the survey.
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