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A new alternative to buying: Textbook Annex offers rental program

Posted to the entrance and taped to walls and shelves throughout the University Textbook Annex are red and white For Rent signs. Is the building up for lease? No, but textbooks are.

For the first time, the University bookstore is offering students the option of renting textbooks.

“Textbook prices are so high, students are always trying to find a good deal, and we’re offering it,” said University of Massachusetts Bookstore Director Ken Kahler. “We’re hoping to keep students buying books on campus and offer one-stop shopping.”

Through Rent-A-Text, a new program sponsored by the Follett Higher Education Group, the company that runs the university bookstore, students will be able to rent textbooks for a semester.

Last Fall, Follett tested the rental program at seven universities and found students saved, on average, 50 percent or more compared to the cost of new books. They have expanded the program to more than 600 university bookstores this semester.

The Rent-A-Text program offers over 650 university textbooks this semester, or about 35 percent of all books on students’ syllabi, Kahler said. He expects the program to offer more titles for rent each semester.

With the rented texts, students are allowed to highlight and write in the books, just as if they bought them.

“We expect the normal wear and tear in books. Obviously students can’t return books with water damage or a torn-off cover, but writing in the books and highlighting is perfectly fine,” said Kahler.

As of late August, Kahler said approximately 300 students had signed up for the textbook rental program, and he expects many more as the school year continues.

Hoping to cut costs, Erwin Apaza, a nutrition major, signed up for the rental program on the University website.

“I need textbooks for class, and if I can rent them and save a few bucks, why wouldn’t I?” he said.

Of his textbooks, the bookstore offered a rental for one book, for a physics class. Priced new at $40, Apaza saved $24 renting.

This program is one change among many to bookstores across the country. The federal Higher Education Opportunity Act, which took effect July 1, now requires universities to provide lists of course material for students during registration.

“With advance notice, students can plan ahead for the full cost of their next term, and they have time to shop around for the best deals on their books,” said Nicole Allen, a textbook advocate for the Student Public Interest Research Groups, in a press release regarding the legislation. According to Allen, the average student spends $900 per year on textbooks, and prices are on the rise.

“The next step is to make sure textbooks are affordable in the first place,” wrote Allen.

As an alternative to the University store, some students have used other sellers, such as Chegg.com to rent textbooks, or Amazon.com to buy used books, and save on costs. Kahler hopes the rental program will inspire more students to buy from the Textbook Annex.

“I’d like to see more students buying from the bookstore. It’s local, it’s convenient and hopefully more affordable.”

Graduate student Sharon Horenstein said she spends hundreds of dollars on books each semester at the Textbook Annex because she feels it’s risky to buy online.

“I could probably save some money if I were to buy books on Amazon, but I’ve heard so many stories from friends getting their books weeks into the semester or never getting them at all, and I don’t want to risk it,” said Horenstein.

Although she hadn’t looked into the new rental program, she said she’d be willing to try it.

Michelle Williams can be reached at mnwillia@student.umass.edu. 

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