Findings conclude lack of savings, some challenge validity
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Textbook price comparison website bigwords.com has recently conducted a study that finds buying and selling textbooks online is a cheaper alternative to renting. However, their results are being questioned by industry officials.
“Our mission has always been to stay on top of the latest trends in purchasing or renting textbooks, so that when customers come to our website they can trust our first recommendation,” said Jeff Sherwood, founder and CEO of bigwords.com.
The company’s study was based on sales and rental data from January, and compared to buyback data between April and May. The top 1,000 textbooks were researched by volume on bigwords.com.
The study found that buying and selling books instead of renting them saved students an average of 95 percent — more than $1,000 per school year.
Buying the least expensive copy of a book at the beginning of a semester and then selling it for the highest buyback price at the end was most cost effective, according to Sherwood.
“It only works if you’re using a price comparison site online because that way you’re guaranteed to find the lowest possible price…” he said. “That’s what Bigwords does.”
The site has introduced a feature called “consider buyback value” that allows the comparison of textbook prices while considering the future value of a textbook, and how it will factor in the overall price of the book.
The Government Accountability Office estimated in 2005 that students were spending $1,137 per year on textbooks.
Sherwood said that he had not seen any countering studies or data that disproved this study.
But Mondana Eghdami, manager of the UNLV Bookstore, was skeptical of the textbook study by bigwords.com.
“I have no idea who these people are,” she said. “Nobody knows if this is a valid study or not.”
Eghdami said that she could not comment on a business that she has never heard about, but finds the results of the company’s research to be shaky.
Barnes & Noble College, who runs the campus bookstore, was unaware of the website itself and the recent study.
Judith Buckingham, senior corporate marketing specialist at Barnes & Noble College, did recognize the difference between using internet sites and the university bookstore.
“While the traditional buy, sell-back process can sometimes provide substantial savings, textbook rental saves money up front,” she said. “This is particularly important for students who can’t afford to lay out a larger amount for textbooks and then wait three months or more to return books for buyback.”
Barnes & Noble College launched its textbook rental program in 2010, and the National Association of College Stores estimates that the program saved students nearly $500 million during the 2011-12 academic year.
Buckingham said that bookstore rentals could save students up to 50 percent per title, and that the bookstore would buy back used books for 50 percent of their value. Barnes & Noble College also accepts financial aid, while most online retailers do not.
“I think rentals do make a lot of sense for a lot of people because you don’t have to worry about selling the book back at the end of the semester,” Sherwood said. “Bigwords doesn’t sell or rent anything – so we just want to put the information out there so that students can make the most informed decision.”
Contact Alexia Shurmur at [email protected]