One Final Shot: The Textbook Industry Wants to Live!

Students who choose Cengage’s rental option will get immediate access to the first chapter of the book electronically, in e-book format, and will have a choice of shipping options for the printed book. When the rental term — 60, 90 or 130 days — is over, students can either return the textbook or buy it.

With the growing competition from online used-book sales, digital texts and new Internet textbook-rental businesses like Chegg and BookRenter, other publishers and college bookstores are also edging toward rentals.

Textbook Publisher to Rent to College Students TAMAR LEWIN, August 13, 2009

I worked at a university for several years that was, as far as I know, the only university with a textbook rental program. I was always surprised at how few professors supported the idea, despite the fact that we were rapidly making an four-year college degree either too expensive or a decades long debt burden. This isn’t a myth.

One reason the online school I work at now is so successful is that it manages to cut the cost of education nearly in half. That’s nothing to sneeze at in any market, much less in the deepest recession since the great depression. One of the dirty little secrets of certain cadres in academia is that they believe restricting access (via testing or finances or both) makes their jobs easier.

Many professors insist that, particularly when it comes to writing, students should have the skills they need before they enter the door. If they don’t, these professors complain bitterly. A minority work hard to improve the public schools. But far too few believe in the democratic mission of an educated society. Too many accept the hierarchies created by the cultural capital of a college degree.

Textbook publishing can be monetarily tempting, too, especially when professors usually come out of school with tens of thousands of dollars in debt. I don’t think that rentals will save the textbook industry, though. Who wants to use a technology that is so expensive to update when alternatives are available? Their days are numbered. Open source is the future, sooner or later.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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