College students fed up with spending hundreds of dollars to buy textbooks they only use once are getting some new rental options.
And textbook publishers, undercut by sales and rentals of used versions that push them to the sidelines, are hoping they have figured out some new strategies to make money.
Stamford, Conn.-based Cengage Learning on Thursday announced plans to rent titles directly to students for 40 percent to 70 percent off the suggested retail price.
Also Thursday, McGraw-Hill Higher Education announced a partnership with web site Chegg.com — one of numerous Web sites that have popped up selling and renting secondhand books. Under the arrangement, McGraw-Hill will provide new textbooks to Chegg, offering the company a bigger inventory of books to lend out, and McGraw-Hill will get a share of the rental revenue.
Textbook costs can add several hundred dollars per year to college costs for students and raise howls of protest at the start of each semester. But publishers maintain textbooks are expensive to produce, and the only chance they have to recoup their investment is revenue from the initial sale.
A new tactic
Cengage called its announcement the first example of a higher education publisher renting titles directly to students. McGraw-Hill billed its partnership as the first of its kind with a textbook rental company.
Both arrangements offer the major publishers something novel: the potential to collect money on each printed copy over multiple years.
Cengage said several hundred titles will be available starting in December, with more to follow next July. McGraw-Hill said the pilot program with Chegg would cover 25 titles.
Students renting a Cengage title would get immediate access to an electronic version of the first chapter, and then be shipped the book, the company said. At the end of the rental term, students can return the books or purchase them.
The announcements come as the industry tries to adjust to modern technologies that have upended what students and teachers expect from supplementary classroom materials and also the traditional models for selling and delivering them.
Among other experiments, a group that manages several hundred college bookstores is currently running a trial rental program. Meanwhile, Amazon.com Inc. is aiming the new, bigger version of its Kindle electronic reading device at the college market, with six universities running Kindle pilots this fall.