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NetBoox? Comparing the Online Textbook Rental Sites

posted by Mark on January 13th, 2009

Comparing the Online Textbook Rental SitesIt was only a matter of time before someone took the concept behind Netflix — renting mail-order movies online — and applied it to books. And what book has a higher demand-and-subsequent-return ratio than a textbook? (A Million Little Pieces notwithstanding.) Currently, there are three major online book rental companies offering textbooks:, and They operate similar to online movie rental sites, with three general exceptions:

1) There is no monthly fee.
2) There is a return due date.
3) You pay for shipping (receiving, not returning).

If you’ve ever dropped hundreds of dollars at the beginning of a semester on textbooks or stood in an endless line at the end of a semester trying to sell them back, online rentals might be worth a try. You save money by renting books for 50-75% less than the brand new purchase price, and when you’re done with them, you just mail them back in the postage-free mailers provided. Here’s a breakdown of the features on the three major sites:

Category Chegg CampusBookRentals BookRenter
Monthly Fee $0 $0 $0
Number of Books Carried “Millions” “Largest selection in the nation” “Millions”
Length of Rental Options Semester (125 days), Quarter (85 days) or Summer (60 days) Semester (130 days), Quarter (85 days) or Summer (55 days) 125, 90, 60, 45 or 30 days
Shipping Time 7-10 business days (4-7 expedited) 7-14 business days (5-8 or 2-3 expedited) 3-7 business days (1-2 expedited)
Shipping Cost $3.99/1st book + $1.99/book + $0.99/order ($6.99/1st book + $3.99/book + $0.99/order expedited) $0 ($4.99 or $11.99 expedited) $3.95 + $1.95/book ($11.95 + $5.95/book or $19.95 + $9.95/book expedited)
Return Shipping Cost $0 $0 $0
Late Fees 25% of book price; full price if over 7 days late None 20% of book price; 140% of book price if over 14 days late + $10 service fee
Extension Option at End of Rental 15 or 30 days 15 or 30 days 10, 30, 45, 60 or 90 days
Option to Buy Rentals? Yes Yes Yes
Option to Buy New? Yes No No
Option to Sell? (Non-Rentals) Yes Yes No
Highlighting Allowed? Yes, as long as it’s not “excessive.” Yes No
Refund Policy Full refund within 15 days of order, minus shipping; 50% refund within 30 days. Full refund within 15 days of order, minus shipping; 50% refund within 30 days. Full refund, minus restocking fee of $10-$15/book.
Insurance Offered? No Yes No
Average Book Price of Sample* $43.58 $44.86 $46.69
Availability of Sample Books* 90% 100% 80%

*Here is a comparison of the semester-long price and availability of 10 textbooks picked at random:

Book Title Chegg CampusBookRentals BookRenter
Chemistry: The Molecular Nature of Matter and Change $73.39 $64.19 $63.94
The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008 Out of stock $24.15 $15.69
Major Problems in American History Since 1945 $28.25 $38.09 $46.19
Spanish Now! Level 1 $12.45 $23.73 $18.51
Exploring Psychology $30.90 $42.57 $43.81
The Norton Anthology of English Literature Vol. 2 $29.85 $35.97 Out of stock
Ethical Issues in Modern Medicine : Contemporary Readings in Bioethics $46.34 $51.49 $43.15
Elementary Statistics $50.50 $53.48 Out of stock
Constitutional Law $69.96 $61.18 $94.15
Living With Art $50.61 $53.74 $48.06

As you can see in this admittedly limited study, each site has its strengths. Chegg is the least expensive, while CampusBookRentals has the best availability and cheapest shipping, and BookRenter has the most flexible term lengths and the quickest ship time. Before you rent, decide which features are most important to you, and choose the company that best fills those needs.

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