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Research shows buying textbooks might be cheaper than renting

Cody Cousino / Multimedia editor

Some Ohio State students who rent textbooks at the beginning of every term might be surprised to find out that purchasing them is cheaper in the long run.

BIGWORDS.com, an online textbook price comparison service, compiled data that analyzed the top 1,000 textbooks purchased by students across the U.S. and found that buying and selling textbooks is a better alternative to renting them.

The online price comparison service allows students to enter the textbooks they need and then compiles the lowest prices from online databases such as Chegg, Barnes & Noble and Half.com.

BIGWORDS.com took the lowest used textbook price in January and compared it to the highest buyback price in April. Those numbers were then compared to the lowest rental price in January.

Jeff Sherwood, founder and CEO of BIGWORDS.com, said he was surprised after comparing the prices of textbooks to the buyback prices offered at the end of each term.

“The problem with rentals is that you can’t sell them back at the end of the semester,” Sherwood said. “With books you buy used, you can sell that back at the end of the semester … you can even end up making money or breaking even.”

The study found that buying and selling books as opposed to renting them saved students an average of $56.64 per book, and Sherwood said buyback prices don’t vary significantly enough throughout the course of the quarter to contradict these findings.

Kathy Smith, the general manager of Barnes & Noble on High Street, said there are guidelines in place for textbook buyback prices. OSU professors must submit their textbook orders promptly by the end of each term, and Barnes & Noble enters those orders into their system. Students are able to sell back their books until Barnes & Noble reaches the amount of copies needed.

“Until we reach that limit, you get half of the new price back for that book,” Smith said. “For example, if there was a book that was $100 new, and let’s say you bought it for $75 used, you get $50 for that book.”

Smith said there are certain instances in which Barnes & Noble can only offer a lower, wholesale price for textbook buybacks. If professors don’t turn in their orders on time, Barnes & Noble has already bought the amount of copies they need, or if OSU is not offering that particular course for the next term, textbooks are bought back at a wholesale price and shipped to a wholesaler which then sells those textbooks to different schools.

“That’s why it’s important that professors turn in their orders on time,” Smith said. “We would much rather give you the used price and keep that book on campus for the next term.”

Although BIGWORDS.com found that textbook buybacks sometimes allow for students to “break even” on their textbook costs, Smith disagreed.

“You’re never paying no money unless you sell it to a friend who is going to use that book next quarter,” Smith said.

Zach Deleonardis, a student in civil engineering, said he buys his textbooks but isn’t sure that he breaks even at the end of each quarter.

“Some of them are so expensive, it doesn’t even matter what you sell them back for,” Deleonardis said. ” It’s pretty close to even, but I’m definitely in the red a little bit.”

Abigail Grabel, a second-year in business , said she doesn’t understand how textbook rentals work so she buys her textbooks every quarter.

“I don’t know how the renting process works,” Grabel said. “I didn’t break even but I got a good amount back. I had one textbook that wasn’t being used the next quarter so I have to wait to sell it back until next year.”

Sherwood said he hopes students take this research into consideration when thinking about buying textbooks before future semesters.

“We don’t care where you buy your textbooks from, our whole job is to tell you where to buy your textbooks for the cheapest,” Sherwood said.

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