Renting versus buying textbooks — a guessing game


At the beginning of each semester, many students ask themselves if it is better to buy textbooks and try to sell them back later or if they should just rent them.

There are several variables that play into whether is it better to buy or rent a textbook. Depending on an individual’s circumstance, in one semester some may buy some books but rent others.

Morgan Williams, a senior from Broomfield, Color., studying Russian asked himself two main questions before he getting his class materials — how much will it cost overall and will he want to keep it?

If a student knows they want to keep a textbook from the beginning, they can buy the textbook from the start. However, if a student first rents a textbook and later decides they would like to keep it for later, online and local textbook services provide options for purchasing rentals.

Rachel Gibson, a junior studying nursing, based her decision off if she is likely to use the book in the future or not.

“I usually buy my textbooks because most of them are for my major and I want to keep them for future reference,” Gibson said.

After the initial step of deciding whether or not the book is a keeper, students most heavily consider the cost.

“I try to determine which option will be less expensive in the end,” Gibson said. “I know how much it will cost to rent a book, assuming I brought in back in time, but I also try to guess how much money I can get back from selling back a book.”

As college students struggling to balance bank accounts and the cost of gaining an education, finding deals is a key factor in obtaining textbooks.

Amanda Bruce, a recent BYU graduate, rented and bought textbooks based upon the price. Often times she ended up renting. “It worked out cheaper than shipping and purchasing the book,” she said.

Many students have resorted to online services to meet their financial circumstances and textbook needs. is a website that helps students find textbooks they need for class by offering a service comparing different online options of renting, buying and selling back textbooks.

“Despite the trend towards rentals, our data shows that buying and selling books online is better for students,” said Jeff Sherwood, founder and CEO at, in a press release.

Based off the top 1,000 textbooks used nationally by students, found buying and selling textbooks as opposed to renting saved students an average of $56.64 per book.

Before students determine the value they can retain or gain from renting or buying a textbook, the lifespan of a textbook’s value is beneficial to consider.

Depending on the subject and edition, the textbook will hold its original value for a limited time. For example, if a 3rd edition science textbook is purchased at $185, and a new edition of the textbook comes out a year later, the value of the 3rd edition textbook will greatly decrease.

If a professor requests the new edition of a text, the older editions of the book are placed at a lower value, causing buybacks to be lower than many would like.

Kelsey Jones, an English major from Draper, has experienced unfortunate buyback situations.

“When I buy textbooks and try to sell them back, I don’t get as much back as I would hope and it can be frustrating,” Jones said.

Tom Hirtzel, the BYU Bookstore textbook manager says he understands the frustration that comes from not getting back as much as you paid but hopes to offer students the best opportunities and resources.

“We are BYU people first, we care about the students,” Hirtzel said. “We recognize that the funds that students have are sacred and we respect that.”

The Bookstore offers students opportunities to find needed texts through an individualized book list each semester through Route Y rentals. A list of purchasing options from other locations, ebooks, links to Amazon and live pricing for materials is also provided.

“We try to create a portal that will help students make the best decision possible for their course materials,” Hirtzel said.

With advances in technology, there are many options for textbook needs and students continually search for the best deal to meet class needs and personal finances.

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