Barnes & Noble enters textbook rental business: Should you use it?

Algebra bookNo doubt inspired by the success of sites like and, Barnes & Noble has entered the textbook rental fray.

In a press release, the company announced that "Barnes & Noble College has made the program easy for students, enabling them to rent their textbooks from the comfort of their dorm or home simply by logging into their campus bookstore's e-commerce site. They can also rent from their campus Barnes & Noble bookstore. This innovative rental program gives students the added flexibility of paying for their rentals using any form of tender, including campus debit cards and student financial aid."

Renting textbooks can be a good way for financially strapped students to manage cash flow: even when buying the book and then selling it at the end of the semester will result in a lower net cost than renting, renting requires less up-front cash.

Renting may be a smart option for brand new titles that are not yet available second-hand. Still, here are a couple alternatives to renting that will likely yield better results for students:

  • Before you buy anything, email the professor and ask if it's OK to use an old edition of the textbook. For many classes, this will work just fine. . . and can save you literally 90% or more off of retail. For the fall semester of 2008, I bought an old edition of a legal studies textbook on for 1 cent -- saving 99.9759268%! For that class, the old book was every bit as useful as the new edition, but no one else in my class had thought to ask the professor whether it would work.
  • Buy your books used on or Amazon, but never trade them back to the bookstore at the end of the semester. Sell them on yourself, cut out the middleman, and keep as much of the money for yourself as you can.
Zac Bissonnette's book College on a Dime will be published by Portfolio in the fall.

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Do not rent your textbooks from Barnes and Noble. They are extremely slow to ship and they do not update their website to reflect actual inventory. I ordered my textbooks with the assumption that a big name business such as this would be reputable and easy to deal with. Not true at all. I noticed that my order had not shipped on the expected date, so I called to see what was going on. At this time I was informed that two of my books were not available. Really? When were they going to tell me this? The customer service rep apologized for the inconvenience and stated that my other books would be shipped express. Still nothing. I am starting my grad school classes soon and I just do not need this stress. I rented one of the books they didn't have from, they shipped to me the very next day and they were cheaper. Fabulous! I will be using them from now on. Barnes and Noble you just need to stick to selling books, because apparently you are not capable of offering rental service.

August 09 2012 at 11:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Stephen Palmtag

I had an absolutely terrible experience with renting a textbook from Barnes and Noble. I rented a textbook for 90-days and was charged the 90-day price of $54 for that particular textbook.

77 days later... I received an email saying that I was being charged the full retail price ($180) of the book. I called Barnes and Noble to tell them that I was incorrectly being charged and their response was that I had signed up for the 30-day rental and that I should have gotten an email among all of the B&N email spam informing be about my tardiness in returning the book. I checked and I had received one email 25 days after my initial purchase reminding me of the due date. I explained that it was a mistake on their part and that they should look at my initial payment of $54 and compare it to the current price of renting the book for 90 days, $54.

I was on the phone for with three different people for over two hours trying to resolve their mistake. They couldn't provide me with a recept showing the rental period and the price nor explain why the price of renting that exact textbook for 90-days would have gone up 80% over the 77 days since my initial payment.

I was told that the best option would be for me to sell the textbook back -- that I had just spent approx $300 on -- to them for $50-$60. I have never been more frustrated in my life and with have nothing do with B&N ever again. I filed a complaint with American Express and they are now currently trying to resolve the situation.

Stick with Amazon or one of the other online rental sites.

December 07 2011 at 5:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply