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Renting changes the textbook industry

For the average cash-strapped college student, watching large amounts of money ring up at the bookstore’s register can be very unsettling. The estimated cost for textbooks and related expenses in the 2007-2008 academic year ranged from $805 to $1,229 per student, depending on the university, according to the National Association of College Stores.

Inspired by their experiences of spending small fortunes at the university bookstore, Iowa State University alumni Aayush Phumbhra and Osman Rashid came up with a solution to an expensive problem: textbook rentals.

Phumbhra and Rashid launched Chegg (chegg.com), an online textbook rental company, in 2003. The company gets books directly from publishers and wholesale partners and also buys used books from students.

“We wanted students to have access to affordable books,” Phumbhra said. “We wanted to make the market more efficient and offer a new way of buying textbooks.”

Chegg has customers from nine of Florida’s 11 state universities, including USF. Phumbhra said Chegg saved students across the country $15 million last year.

Instead of keeping unwanted books or selling them back for a fraction of their cost, students can mail them to Chegg and sell them for more than they’d typically get from a campus bookstore, Chegg representative Megan Adams said.

Chegg also contributes to an environmental cause by planting trees.

“We’ve planted a ton of trees equivalent to 150 city blocks,” Phumbhra said. Chegg.com is a partner with American Forests, an organization aimed at environmental restoration. For every book Chegg rents, a tree is planted.

According to Chegg, the rental service has planted more than 750 acres of trees in 10 states, including Florida.

Scott Laming of bookfinder.com, a discount textbook search engine, said textbook rentals may not be the best fit for everyone.

“If you like to write in your books, don’t rent,” he said. “If you rent and demolish them, you’ll end up buying them.”

Laming said rentals are best for students who take good care of their textbooks and know they don’t want to keep them.

Chegg charges a 25 percent fee for books returned late and a replacement fee for books that aren’t returned at all.

Jason Jahier, a junior majoring in advertising, said he could see himself taking advantage of textbook rentals.

“I would consider doing it because most of the time I am going to sell my textbooks back anyway,” he said. “I could just rent a used one and then just give it back so someone else can use it later on.”

Though Chanell Anderson, a senior double majoring in gerontology and French, said she was impressed by Chegg’s environmentally conscious efforts, she questioned whether the possibility of online business complications would be worth the hassle.

“I don’t like that it works through mailing,” she said. “Sometimes the books don’t come on time, sometimes you might not get the right edition.”

Phumbhra said Chegg is in the process of making delivery as quick as possible.

“It can take a few days to get the books because right now you can walk to the bookstore and get the books right away,” he said. “But we are obviously working on getting more advanced shipping options
available.”