Rentals, e-books offer textbook choices

College textbooks are expensive, but students have more choices than ever before, AP reports.

A new federal law requires publishers to provide textbook price information to professors and calls on colleges to identify course textbooks during registration, giving students more time to shop around. Experts call it a step in the right direction, but not a game-changer.

More promising is the chance to shop for used books online or to rent textbooks.

The prospect of digital books and slow-but-steady growth in free online “open” content loom as developments that could upend the textbook landscape and alleviate the perennial problem of rising prices.

Amazon is selling textbooks at a discount and offering to buy used textbooks.

College students spend $667 to $900 per year on required textbooks and other course materials, surveys estimate.

The 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act “requires publishers to offer textbooks separately from extra items like workbooks and CDs,” reports AP.

The practice of “bundling” products leads to markups of 10 to 50 percent and makes books harder to sell, according to the Student Public Interest Research Groups, which pressed for the reforms.

Textbook rentals are hot this year, reports Community College Times. Follett Higher Education Group and Barnes & Noble College Booksellers, which contract to manage 1,500 campus bookstores, have expanded their rental programs which typically offer a semester-long rental for half the price of a new book. About half of the 3,000 member stores of the National Association of College Stores (NACS) now offer textbook rental services, up from 200-300 stores a year ago.

Students taking classes out of their majors don’t need to own the book, said Charles Schmidt, public relations director at NACS. “However, a chemistry major will often refer back to his or her Introduction to Organic Chemistry text later in their academic careers, and maybe even in their professional careers, so buying makes more sense.”

POSTED BY Joanne Jacobs ON August 13, 2010

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