A Textbook Rental Program Like No Other

Today marks a significant step in the evolution of the textbook market. The online retail sales of new and used textbooks started things off in the late 1990’s and this was followed soon with the integrated peer-to-peer marketplace in the early 2000’s; Akademos was likely the first company to offer this (Amazon’s own version came out about six months after our launch).

For a few years now, there has been a lot of buzz about online textbook rentals. This back to school season promises to be the most heavily marketed period for textbook rentals ever, despite the fact that one has good reason to wonder, as people often do, whether it is cheaper to rent or to purchase through a marketplace like TextbookX.com (especially if one takes into account the re-sale value of a marketplace purchase).

Still, there’s little doubt that renting textbooks is a valuable alternative in many cases. But if so, why did rental appear now when the possibility for it has existed since the beginning of internet sales? One of the major reasons for the emergence of textbook rentals today is that, just like marketplaces before it, this service relies on, and presupposes, the infrastructure of online textbook sales. The extensive network of vendors who now buy and sell books directly online form the basis of today’s online rental programs. Instead of warehousing all the books for such a program, companies that offer this service try to connect buyers and sellers, much as a marketplace does—but with the added step of shipping the book from the renter/consumer rather than simply to her.

Today’s online rental programs, then, depend on mature marketplaces. Because of that, however, two unknowns emerge: The rental service can promise to deliver the book that you’ve ordered (according to title, ISBN, etc.) but it can’t promise to deliver a specific copy—the extent of the highlighting, the seller’s notes about condition, and even whether the book is new or used are all hidden from the renter. Second, and following from this, one also doesn’t know the cost to buy that particular copy and how close in price it might be to the rental fee. The process, in other words, is at once dependent on a network of buyers and sellers and yet remains a rather dark pool.

In launching the first marketplace for textbook rentals, Akademos aims to introduce transparency into the offering by showing prospective purchasers and renters the descriptions of the actual books that they select and what the prices for the books would be as both a purchase and as a rental, side-by-side and for all to see. Another first. Akademos is now the only company that offers students and schools the coverage of new, used, rental, eBook, custom, marketplace purchase, and marketplace rental. Our goal is to remove the cost of textbooks as an obstacle to students in their educational pursuits; a textbook rental program is a natural next step toward achieving that.

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