Textbooks for rent


That was the sign posted at the Co-op bookshop here at Monash Caulfield.

Now as a co-author of one of Australia’s largest selling (and best) first year undergraduate economics textbooks, the second hand book market has always been a concern. New editions sell well the first year and then sales tend to drop rapidly as the second-hand market takes over. Rental clearly kills the second-hand market but replaces it with a rental market.

At first glance this seems neutral to the author. With a second-hand market the book is sold once (with royalties) then resold second-hand (without royalties) until it falls to pieces or is replaced by a new edition.

With rental, the book is sold once with royalties, then rented out until it falls to pieces or is replaced by a new edition.

However, I suspect book rental will lower overall sales of new textbooks and lower returns to hard working and deserving textbook authors. The rental agreement require that the book is returned in good condition by a fixed date. So it will definitely be returned to the rental pool (unlike the situation where selling the second-hand book has a transactions cost that dissuades some students) and is likely to be kept in good condition (students don’t want to pay the fine for returning a book in poor condition).

Of course this may mean that authors will respond by putting out new editions more often to try and undermine the rental market.

However, what really annoyed me was that the bookshop was renting a first year microeconomics textbook – but it wasn’t Gans, King and Mankiw!

10 Responses to "Textbooks for rent"
  1. Stephen, the market has developed because text books are overpriced, short value, grudge purchases. Remove the gouging middleman publishers and issue your textbook as a reasonably priced ebook and the second hand/rental market will not have any demand to supply.

  2. Stephen (and others)
    One important point has been over-looked here: the fact that university textbooks have a useful life of about 2-3 years tops, no matter what their condition.
    So for hard-working authors like Stephen, these books go out of circulation just as fast whether they’re rented or sold, in good condition or poor.
    And for critics like Trent and Paul: prices are as high as they are given the short lifespan each edition of these texts have and the repeated costs of updating and re-printing new editions.
    I take the point about ‘trivial’ updating of editions, which used to drive me mad – which is why I spent the first week of every semester in the library with the reading guide photocopying the relevant chapters!

  3. I meant, of course, that individual editions of textbooks have a useful life of 2-3 years.

  4. Michael, I don’t know what sort of textbooks you’re referring to (I’ve heard that it’s true in economics).  I am most familiar with maths and physics, where publishers play the “new edition every few years” game.  The maths and physics stays pretty constant over the decades, but the numerical parameters in the practice problems change every edition.

  5. Good point, David. In industries where the ‘basics’ stay relatively constant, I guess new editions for the sake of new editions would be/are an issue. But then, if there’s no significant new learning in new texts, and everyone knows this, then surely you can get by for longer using cheaper, older editions and photocopying the problems at the back at the library? 

    Being a lawyer (there goes my credibility in this forum!), my experience is with legal texts, which tended to update annually for obvious reasons. So it wasn’t so easy (poor lawyers, I hear you not crying).

    I do, however, remember politics and history texts came out in new editions once every 3 years or so, though. You’d think those subjects would be pretty settled, wouldn’t you? Go figure!

  6. So, Stephen, the amount of royalties you earn is based not just on the value of the information that you provide, but also (and perhaps primarily) on the physical life of the medium that carries that information.
    When you think about it that way, that is a pretty bizarre marketplace.
    Roll on the e-book!

  7. You’re missing the point, Michael – the new editions aren’t about developments in the field, but about making old editions unusable for assigned work. “Read Chapter 7 Part 2”  – except that in the old edition it is Chapter 8 Part 3;  or “Do Exercises 158-163” – except that the example data for Exercises 158-163 have been randomly replaced.

    What Dave said, but.  It is a very inefficient system, the efficiency costs of which are borne by students.

  8. The possibility <a href=”http://www.textbookstop.com/rent-textbooks.jsf”>rent textbooks</a> could be a fantastic way to save money. I can definitely see <a href=”http://www.textbookstop.com/rent-textbooks.jsf”>textbook rentals</a> growing in popularity as the years go by.

  9. Hi Stephen,
    I actually run a text book rental company, we launched this year (www.zookal.com), I started this company with fellow students because textbooks are too expensive. Being an economist you must understand the laws of supply and demand. The text book market, currently defies this as the demand for textbooks is always consistent, students (the consumer) have no say in their purchase and to add to this the market is controlled by one or two players that provide the most sales (coop), plus the publishers can keep the prices high because they know that demand will always been there.
    Is it fair to allow free market to bring down the cost of these books?
    I think what you are missing here is the fact that not all students can afford to buy textbooks and what we are finding is that a lot of the people using the site, are students that previously did not purchase textbooks or purchased and then on sold their textbooks. There will always be the students that want to buy their books brand new and keep them. This will never change. Rental allows broader market access to these texts at a much cheaper rate – isn’t the goal to be in providing education?
    we are capturing another part of the market that did not purchase their books before. Isnt this infact increasing sales? If publishers of books are so concerned about losing royalties, re producing edition 1-100 is not the way to go about it (although a popular one) we are a student based company and we have even talked about approaching such writers i would be interested to know what these royalties are as i have been told that publishers no do not actually give royalties anymore but a bulk fee to writers (is this correct?)
    my email is attach

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