Renting textbooks is smart but e-book only is coming – no more buybacks for college students?

By Ben Alonzo

When it comes to the cost of college, I feel your pain. Affording tuition is one thing, but then there’s the cost of textbooks. Some of these books are ridiculously expensive (one example was a medical textbook that cost as much as the course tuition). On top of that, there’s some more bad news, at least for some people: no more paperbacks or buybacks – digital only. Arguments can be made for and against e-book only courses. But students still have some options – so be sure to read this article to learn how you can find a cheap textbook for your course. Changes are coming and you have to do what you can to be smart and save money.

The Textbook Apocalypse

Visions of thunder and lightning, crying, and gnashing of teeth – that’s what students are thinking when they see just how expensive college textbooks are. Bad news, it’s getting worse. But stay positive, there’s still some good advice you could follow. The publisher has made several billion dollars, as of 2017 estimates. They also publish K-12 materials, when considering their reach outside of higher education institutions.

In July 2019, Forbes reported on Pearson’s plan to be the first to go e-book only for all textbooks. Pearson is one of the largest publishers for college textbooks. They plan on being the first to roll out an all-digital line. From the looks of it, the article suggests that this move towards digital was because the “renting” market was hurting them, cutting their income from students. Although some books will still be available in print, they plan on discouraging students from avoiding their digital editions by increasing the price of the print (make it too expensive for students). Much of their recent income was a result of digital sales, so they see an opportunity here.

Outrageous: NBC graphic showing college textbooks somehow way over the general US inflation rate. Big money for textbooks.

Unfortunately, this means more trouble for students. Students already have issues affording college and textbooks are another added expense. In some cases, a single textbook can go for $150-$200 — even for used prices. Some textbooks are limited in availability. Other options include renting, which is something too many students ignore, costing them a huge amount of semester funds.

Renting: Best Advice

Listen to me, rent every textbook you can, no matter what the course is or how long it lasts. Don’t bother buying new or used, just rent and save money.

I’ve always told my students they should rent when they can. Renting means almost 80% off, in most cases, but it comes with a simple catch. You have to return the textbook at the end of the semester with no writing or damage in it. So I guess that means no eating BBQ ribs on top of your book and don’t dunk it in a paint bucket. They give you free shipping so the book quickly gets to you in time for the first day of class. In addition, they give you a free return label so you can return it with no problems. In the end, you save. It’s a great idea, but not everyone listens. Renting might get much more difficult in the case of digital books. Renting for now is expert advice, everyone should be doing it – while they can.

How do you rent? Find a reputable college textbook rental source by searching Google. You usually type in the ISBN code of your book in the search box and then “rent textbook” after that. The ISBN code should come from your textbook requirements description, the syllabus, or something official. You’ll want to make sure you have the right edition/version of the book – that’s what the ISBN code tells you. Type all of that in and you should see some options in the search result. Renting is usually much cheaper than buying used textbooks.

You ultimately lose 50-95% of your money when you try to sell back used textbooks, which is not a good thing. Again, renting is a better option.

Professors always get complaints from students about the cost of books. We understand. It’s not that simple though, and sometimes we can’t just decide to let everyone buy whatever book they feel like using. There must be consistency and we have certain requirements by law that have to be met. It’s just not easy.

As a scientist, I always like to discuss a bigger perspective on issues. This is why we need to talk about the arguments for and against e-book only courses.

Arguments for E-book Only Courses

Pew Research polls indicate a growing number of U.S. adults reading e-books (at least 28% as of 2014). Because this number continues to increase, there’s obviously a digital market out there. Other arguments include saving paper, cutting employee costs (digital requires less), and faster delivery (instant access to a digital book instead of shipping).

E-book readers are also really good and searching for terms, which could help a student find content faster than by print. E-book readers can also help with disabled people, providing audio reading capability and the ability to zoom into pages – something you can’t do with print. Obviously, there’s some legitimate reasons to argue for digital editions. Of the top of my head, keeping information updated could be faster with digital as well (science is always changing).

Arguments against E-book Only Courses

As good as digital sounds, there’s also many arguments against it. Less options for students means a digital textbook might turn into some kind of subscription model that costs for content and time used (much like cable TV packages). Some scary things are also suggested by computer software experts.

Computer software experts say, Pearson’s move to digital only could take control away from students and even digitally delete the book from the student’s hard drive. They can set limits as to how long you can read. They can require credit card information to be stored (or other personal details). The license to use the textbook could be tiered into forcing students to pay for a certain amount of days. On top of all of this – no more selling or buybacks. You get no print copy and the digital copy would be treated like buying software.

Many professors argue against proprietary student materials, arguing college should be free and open source. The nice thing about open source textbooks is that it could be an expert-community published platform, with all the same good science, more up-to-date materials, better graphics, more real-life content, and free. Since it’s open source, every educational institution would be able to use it. Some major universities have discussed this, such as MIT. As science becomes even more important now and in the future, the sharing of educational information also becomes critical. Keeping it behind paywalls is counterproductive and presents a major barrier to many socioeconomic disadvantaged, excellent students, who are forced in another direction.

One key element of science is the sharing of information between scientists, students, and society – let’s not forget that. This includes sharing journal articles, expert blogs, textbooks, and other publications – in the interest of furthering public education and the state of science.

Business Insider: Why College Textbooks Are So Expensive.

As you can see, there are arguments on both sides. This is a hot topic because we already have a student loan, tuition, and failing student crisis. At some point, this might require congressional intervention. One could see this getting out of control and quickly causing another crisis of low quality education and numerous financial barriers for well-meaning college students. Once again, your best bet is to take the advice in this article and rent textbooks – while you can.

Author:Ben Alonzo is one of the world’s most unique science and tech experts. He founded ULTRA TechLife and is the CEO of the tech firm Storm Sector, LLC. Ben holds an MS in Information Technology, MS in Geoscience, MS in Health & Nutrition, and a BS in Geoscience. He is a highly rated professor that teaches a wide variety of college courses within earth and environmental sciences as well as within computer sciences and public health. His diverse background spans information technology, cybersecurity, healthcare, weather forecasting, consumer electronics, graphic design, web development, and business leadership. He holds numerous professional licenses and certifications, ranging from information technology to healthcare and emergency medical technician. Ben is a tech entrepreneur and is business partners with multiple restaurants. He is a fitness pro, health scientist, a licensed private pilot that loves flying, and enjoys independent filmmaking. He has written about science and tech for over 10 years. You can see some of his past articles on the Houston Chronicle, Heart, and other networks. In his free time, he likes scuba diving, storm chasing, traveling, making music, and drones.
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