Shelling out money to buy college textbooks is always a sore spot with students and their parents. But this semester, the University at Buffalo bookstore is experimenting with renting books at much-reduced prices.
Follett Higher Education Group, which runs about 860 campus stores, is trying out its Rent-a-Text program at 15 of its locations, including the one at UB.
"I don't know a whole lot about it, but I figure I'll try it out," said Tina Allen, a master's student in library and information studies at UB.
Allen, of Rochester, needed a book that cost about $65 new. Instead, she rented it for the semester for around $24.
"It seems like you can't go wrong," Allen said last week.
The pilot rental program comes at a time when there's a heightened sensitivity to rising college costs, including textbooks, which represent one of the larger college expenses, after tuition, room and board.
College students spend an average of $700 to more than $1,000 a year on textbooks and supplies, according to national surveys, and the prices of textbooks are increasing at twice the rate of inflation, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found.
Campus bookstores, meanwhile, are watching more students shop around for better prices online or turn to less-expensive e-books -- textbooks in digital format.
"We're obviously in a changing climate in higher ed," said Elio DiStaola, director of public and campus relations for Follett. "Over the last few years, we've seen growth in competition."
As a result, he said, bookstores need to offer students more options.
At UB, roughly 20 percent of the titles are being offered as rentals at 42.5 percent of the new retail price.
"It really is a tremendous upfront savings to the students," DiStaola said.
But there's a sizable start-up cost associated with financing a textbook rental program, so only 3 percent of the 3,100 members in the National Association of College Stores offer one, said spokesman Charles Schmidt.
Schmidt agreed rental programs help students by taking less out of the pocket at the start of the semester, but he argued that the savings may not be as much as they think when compared with buying a book new and selling it back to the bookstore at the end of the term.
Nicole McCullough disagreed. The UB nursing student likes the rental option and plunked down $74 last week to rent a textbook she needed for the semester.
The program even allows her to highlight in the textbook.
"I only need this book," said McCullough, a junior, "so it really works out good."