PHILADELPHIA â€” Gregory Dyer, a Villanova University senior, stood in an aisle at his campus bookstore searching for his introduction-to-art textbook. He gasped. New, â€œLiving With Artâ€ would cost the English major $130. Used, it was a mere $97.50.
Then he noticed the bright orange label saying he could rent it for $21.99. Intrigued, he followed the signs to a Chegg.com iPad stand and punched in his rental order, adding the $6.99 for shipping.
â€œI saved 70 bucks!â€ he said.
Across the country, college students scavenging for affordable textbooks are beginning to realize that they have something in common with airline passengers.
Same book, same destination, but some people pay full price, and some find bargains.
For years, students have relied on used copies and online purchases for relief from escalating textbook costs. But this semester, hundreds of thousands are benefiting from a convergence of new legislation encouraging professors to be aware of costs and a market-driven explosion in rental offerings.
â€œItâ€™s the biggest, hottest thing this year in college bookstores,â€ said Frank Henninger, director of Villanovaâ€™s campus bookstore. Last year, his shop rented not a single book. This year, itâ€™s renting 620 titles through a partnership with a national leader in the textbook rental business, Chegg.com.
â€œThis groundswell of mass numbers of college bookstores renting books occurred like a rogue wave,â€ he said.
In just two years, the number of campus bookstores offering rentals has jumped from a few dozen to 1,500, according to the National Association of College Stores.
Barnes & Noble, which operates 637 campus bookstores, including those at Temple, the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel, and Community College of Philadelphia, piloted six rental programs last fall. This year, more than 300 are renting textbooks, accounting for about 30 percent of sales on a given campus.
â€œIt has exploded. It really has,â€ said Jade Roth, vice president of books and digital strategy for Barnes & Noble College Booksellers.
Renting is among the cheapest of several options, Roth said, running down a typical cost breakdown. If your typical text costs $100 for a new edition, used will cost $75, an e-book â€” or digital version â€” $55, and a rental $45.
That option worked for Villanova student Paul Passariello, 21, a senior from Middletown, N.J. Passariello, a business major, thought he might have to spend $400 for two books: â€œStrategic Management and Auditingâ€ and â€œAssurance Services.â€
Instead, he rented them online at the bookstore for $150.
Not exactly a steal, he said, but â€œthe lesser of two evils.â€
The rental boom is fueled by pressure from Congress to rein in textbook costs. Legislation that took effect July 1 requires publishers to tell professors the price of the books they are ordering and mandates that colleges include textbook costs in Internet course schedules. That way, students will have plenty of time to shop for cheaper editions.
The law, part of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, also requires publishers to make clear what is different in each edition, which may dampen professorsâ€™ tendency to order the latest, and most expensive, version.
â€œThis will give professors the opportunity to make a choice,â€ said State Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D-West Chester, Pa.), who has sponsored a bill that echoes the federal legislation.