Buy from Amazon, rent from the bookstore: a student guide to CTI textbooks

According to The College Board, a student at a four-year private college will spend an average of $1,253 per year on textbooks and supplies. This is in addition to tuition, fees, a meal plan, housing and social expenses. With students spending an average of $600 per semester, many outlets for textbooks have emerged. Today, students have a variety of options for how and where to purchase their textbooks.

The first option is the William Jewell College Official Bookstore. Jewell’s campus bookstore is one of 700 nationwide that operate in the college division under the umbrella of Barnes and Noble. In addition to college bookstores, Barnes and Noble operates 661 brick and mortar stores and the NOOK franchise.  In 2014, Barnes and Noble College earned $1.7 million, 27 percent of Barnes and Noble’s overall sales. The model is hailed as mutually beneficial for the school and store. The stores act as the school’s official bookstore and the school receives a percentage of the store’s profits. As for textbooks, the bookstore offers new, used and electronic books as well as rentals and a buyback program. Benefits of the bookstore include an option to order books with a few clicks from a class schedule on MyJewell, the on-campus location and a variety of used texts that are not available from many online retailers.

Beyond the official bookstore, many students opt to purchase books from Amazon. When purchasing books from Amazon students have two options. First, to purchase directly from Amazon. Most of these purchases are eligible for promotions such as Amazon Prime, free shipping and Amazon Student. Second, students can make a purchase from a third-party retailer that is facilitated by Amazon. These purchases are often not eligible for promotions and have addition shipping fees. Amazon offers mostly new books and a few eBooks. There are very few options for used books and no rental or buyback options.

Another online retailer, Chegg, offers many services that Amazon does not. Chegg is a website that specializes in renting textbooks. The site also sells books, buys used books  and hosts internship, job, and scholarship databases.  For some texts, Chegg offers a seven day “read while you wait” eBook, but does not offer most texts in an eBook format.

Beyond books, Chegg supports a variety of humanitarian causes from planting trees to domestic and international community service and hosts a college lifestyle blog. The company has also partnered with brands such as Hulu and Redbull to help these brands reach college students.

When it comes to physical textbooks, students have three main options: buy new, buy used,  rent new or rent used. In order to determine trends in Critical Thought and Inquiry (CTI) book prices for William Jewell students, The Hilltop Monitorcompared the prices of all required texts for Fall 2014  (CTI) classes between the bookstore and Amazon for buying and the bookstore and Chegg for renting.

This comparison showed that purchasing a new CTI book from Amazon is always cheaper than purchasing a new book from the bookstore. Further, in 18 out of 66 cases, it is cheaper to purchase a new book from Amazon than a used book from the Bookstore. Overall, buying a new book from Amazon costs less than buying a new book from the bookstore, but used options from the bookstore are generally cheaper than new books from Amazon.

The comparison also showed that for CTI books, it is always cheaper to rent a used book from the bookstore than to rent from Chegg. One main reason is that Chegg’s baseline rental price is $9.99 every required CTI texts, such as On Liberty and Herland, which are short and relatively inexpensive titles but Chegg’s baseline has no downward flexibility. Besides the baseline price, the trend of cheaper bookstore rental prices persists into higher priced titles. For example, “Debates on U.S. Immigration,” the most expensive non-math required title, is $58.50 to rent used from the bookstore while it is $101.99 to rent from Chegg. Overall, the bookstore is the cheaper option for renting.

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