The cost of buying books for a semester in college can easily reach hundreds of dollars. Online textbook rental tends to be more affordable and can make shopping for textbooks more convenient.

You can rent your required books, have them delivered directly to your home or dormitory and then return them at your convenience or at the end of a set period. Most people who use online textbook rental services are college or university students who rent required course texts at the beginning of a semester or term and return them after final exams.

 

Top 9 Best Rated Textbook Rental Companies

Founded in 1993, Alibris is an online marketplace company that facilitates sales between independent merchants and website users. Among many other things, consumers may rent textbooks and supplementary materials.
Established in 2010, Chegg is a web-based company that offers educational services for college and high school students. Its website features textbook rentals and sales, help with homework and online tutoring.
MBS Direct began as an online bookstore for one college in 1992. It now serves dozens of universities, offering required and optional texts as well as other gear. It has replaced physical bookstores at many institutions.
Barnes and Noble opened its first bookstore in 1886 in New York City. Today, it stands as the last remaining bookstore chain in the United States with over 600 locations, employing more than 25,000 people.

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Features to consider in a textbook rental company

What rental period options are available?

Most textbook rental companies allow some leeway with the rental period. Think about how long you’ll need the book, whether that timeframe is likely to change and whether the company offers a plan that can accommodate your needs.

  • Short-term rentals: Some companies allow you to rent a book for just 30 or 60 days. This is a great option if you only need the book while you complete a term paper or if you want to rent it at the end of the semester to cram for exams.
  • Quarter- or semester-long rental: Nearly all textbook rental companies allow this option, which matches up with a traditional university term on a quarterly or semester system. Quarter rentals last 90 days while semester rentals last 180 days, so you can use the text to read along with the class material and return it after finishing your final exams.
  • Choose your own rental length: Some companies allow you to choose your own rental length or extend your own rental time for a prorated fee. This can be a great option if you’re not sure how long you’ll need the book or if you end up needing the book longer than you expected.

How much is shipping?

Shipping fees vary among companies, with some offering free shipping and others charging a flat or graduated rate. Be sure to consider shipping costs when you compare companies’ advertised rental prices.

  • Free shipping: Some companies offer free shipping on all book rentals, while others set an order requirement, such as offering free shipping on orders of $35 or more.
  • Rush shipping available: Some companies offer overnight or rush shipping for customers who need their books right away. This feature can be helpful if you forgot to order your books on time or if you are picking up a class after the term has started.
  • Return shipping fees: For convenience, some companies include return shipping costs in the rental fee or offer free return shipping. Many companies send a prepaid return shipping label with the rented book. Other companies allow you to print prepaid labels from your account, while still others require you to purchase and print your own label for a specific courier such as USPS or FedEx.
  • Return policy: If you drop a course or decide you don’t need a textbook, it is helpful if the company accepts returns. Many companies offer a refund for the rental cost if you return the book within a set period of time after receiving it, sometimes minus shipping fees or a restocking fee.

What other fees are there?

Some companies charge lots of hidden fees, so be sure to look into what you might be responsible for at the end of your rental.

  • Damage fees: All major rental companies charge a fee if you damage a book or return it in worse condition than when you got it. Damage might include torn or dog-eared pages, writing on pages, bent covers, coffee stains and more. Most companies simply list the damage fee as variable according to the extent of the damage, up to the retail cost of the book. Some companies offer the retail price minus rental fees, which can save you money if a book is inadvertently damaged.
  • Late fees: If you are not able to return your textbook by the end of your rental period, you might be charged a late fee or even a replacement fee. Check if your company offers a grace period or option to extend your rental.

How easy is the website to navigate?

Professional websites are easy to navigate and simple and convenient to use. You should easily be able to locate the book you need and see the status of orders in your user account.

  • Simple search function: A well-designed website should have a simple search feature that allows you to quickly find out if the company carries the books you need. You should be able to enter the book title and author or the ISBN number to quickly see if the book is in stock and at what price.
  • Clear pricing guidelines: A textbook rental company should be upfront about all of the fees associated with the rental. This will include rental amount and time period, shipping costs, late fees, cost to purchase the book (if you lose it or decide not to return it) and any other fees associated with your rental. If you find yourself confused about what the final price will be while navigating the page, you may want to look for another company.
  • Account features: Most textbook rental websites allow users to create password-protected accounts and store credit card information, shipping addresses and more for easy checkout. It’s also helpful if your account shows a rental history with due dates and a one-click rental extension feature. This will automatically charge your credit card for added rental time if you find that you need the book longer than expected.

What additional features are available?

Other helpful features might differentiate one textbook rental company from its competitors. Be sure to read the website thoroughly to see if the company you are considering offers any of these features.

  • Grace period: Some rental companies allow a five to 15 day grace period at the end of your rental. If your book is overdue by a few days, you won’t have to pay any extra rental fees.
  • Rewards programs: Some companies have customer rewards programs that allow you to accrue points for every book that you rent. After several book rentals, you can earn dollars-off coupons or free book rentals.
  • Highlighting options: Some rental companies allow you to highlight or annotate rental books without incurring any added fees, which is a great option for hands-on and visual learners. Be sure to find out if this is a feature of your rental company before marking up your rental books.
  • Option to buy: Many rental companies offer the option to buy your rental book if you decide you’d rather keep it. This is usually an additional fee added to your rental fee. Many companies offer purchase prices close to retail.

Does the company have reliable customer service?

If you are looking for a book last minute or need to talk to someone about a lost or damaged book, you need options for contacting customer service promptly. The best textbook rental companies offer multiple ways to get in touch when you need to.

  • Multiple methods of contact: The best textbook rental companies offer multiple ways to get in touch when you need to. The company should have a toll-free phone number and email address clearly listed on their website.
  • Live-chat feature: A live-chat feature provides real-time interaction with customer service representatives and is often the best option when you’re in a rush.
  • Contact the seller: Some textbook marketplace websites simply facilitate a rental or sale between you and someone who has the book you need. On these sites, check to see if there is a way to get directly in contact with the seller if there’s a problem with your book.

Types of online textbook rental companies

Campus bookstores

The first companies to offer online textbook rentals were those that already served the college textbook market. Most online campus bookstores and national textbook distributors now offer textbook rentals in addition to selling books, supplies and campus gear.

Textbook distributors

Many new companies have developed in the last few years specifically for textbook rental. These companies buy textbooks in bulk and distribute them as rentals or offer them for sale. They generally keep stock in their own warehouses instead of relying on a separate distributor to fill orders.

Marketplace sites

Several textbook rental websites serve as a host for sales from multiple vendors. These marketplace sites provide the technical features and serve as a middleman between book sellers and renters or buyers. Some of these marketplaces are dedicated to textbooks while others are mass market platforms such as Amazon.com, and textbook rentals only comprise a small portion of their revenue. You can often find good prices on these sites since each seller is competing for your business.

What types of people use textbook rental companies?

Students who need books fast

Online textbook rental companies often carry the largest stock of college and university books or have access to the most resellers which means they can ship books quickly. Many also offer the option to buy if you’d prefer not to rent. Because they work almost exclusively with students, they often run attractive promotions, offer loyalty rewards and ship products fast.

Students on a tight budget

Purchasing textbooks is expensive for most students, especially if you have a full course load. Consider renting if you’re on a tight budget or having financial difficulties; you can always purchase particularly interesting or helpful books later.

Students taking courses outside their majors

If you’re required to take a course to fulfill curricular requirements but don’t find the topic particularly interesting, you might consider renting the book. If you wouldn’t want to read the book again after the class, it makes financial sense to rent.

People with textbooks to sell

Many online rental companies buy books, especially at the end of terms. If you have books lying around collecting dust and could use the extra income, consider selling them to a textbook rental company.

Managers who need several copies of a book for training purposes

While most people who use textbook rental services are students, you might also use this service if you want to get several copies of a book for a training workshop or other enrichment activity at your place of business. Renting can lower your cost while still getting the needed materials in your employees’ hands.

Online textbook rental company reviews

  • Chegg.com

    Founded in 2010, Chegg is a California-based company that specializes in resources for college and university students. Its website offers textbooks for rent or sale and also features study help, tutoring resources, test prep and internship listings.

    • Best for college and university students on a budget.
  • MBS Direct

    Founded in 1992, MBS Direct partners with colleges and universities to offer an online campus bookstore specific to each school. The online bookstores carry course materials, merchandise and apparel.

    • Best for students at private schools and universities that partner with this company.
  • Alibris Books

    Founded in 1993, Alibris is an online marketplace website headquartered in California that facilitates purchases between independent sellers and website users. Among other products, Alibris features textbook sales and rentals.

    • Best for college and university students on a budget and those who want to highlight their books.
  • Campus Book Rentals

    Campus Book Rentals is an online textbook rental company. It was founded in 2009 in Ogden, Utah as a more affordable alternative to the traditional purchase and buy-back programs at many college bookstores.

    • Over a million customers served: Since its founding in 2007, Campus Book Rentals has provided textbooks to over a million customers, saving them over $133.7 million compared to retail costs.
    • Simple rental process: Search for a book by ISBN number, author or title, then choose the length of your rental period. Campus Book Rentals will ship your book along with a prepaid return package.
    • Rewards for referrals: Campus Book Rentals offers a refer-a-friend rewards system. Share your personalized referral link with friends, and they will receive 10 percent off their first purchase. For every new customer who completes a transaction with Campus Book Rentals through your link, you’ll receive a $5 reward card redeemable for merchandise from Amazon, Nike or iTunes.
    • Buyback program: Campus Book Rentals has partnered with sellbackyourbook.com to offer book buybacks on any textbooks you already own. You can earn credit for your unneeded books which can then be used to rent or buy more books.
    • United States editions: Campus Book Rentals guarantees that its textbooks are United States editions, so you can be sure the books will be the same as the ones at your campus bookstore.
    • Best for college and university students on a budget.

  • eCampus.com

    eCampus.com is an online textbook rental company that was founded in 1999. It began as an experiment backed by 429 investors during the dot com bubble and succeeded as a marketplace retailer of new and used textbooks and ebooks. eCampus.com also features a textbook rental program and allows customers the option to rent or buy.

    • Textbook guarantee: You can return a rented or purchased textbook for any reason within 25 days of your order.
    • eWards rewards system: Customers earn points on each rental or purchase at eCampus.com through its eWards rewards program. Your points can be redeemed for up to $20 off a future textbook rental.
    • Free shipping: Rental and purchase orders over $59 qualify for free shipping. Rental returns are always free.
    • Rental length options: eCampus.com offers the option to choose a short term, quarter- or semester-long rental. If you only need the book for a short time such as for an accelerated summer course, you can save money by choosing a short rental. You can also extend the rental length at any time.
    • Simple returns: eCampus.com sends a reminder when the rental’s due date is approaching, and you can simply print a pre-paid UPS label from your account and leave the book at a UPS Store or drop location.
    • Best for university and college students on a budget and those who need flexible rental times.

  • Knetbooks

    Founded in 2009, Knetbooks is a Lexington, Kentucky-based book retailer that specializes in textbook rentals. It was purchased by eCampus.com in 2011 but still does business as Knetbooks.

    • Flexible due dates: You set your rental due date when you first check out, choosing between short term, quarter or semester rentals. Later, you can always extend the rental or purchase the book through your online account.
    • Text message updates: Knetbooks offers text notifications to let you know when your order ships and when your due date is approaching, so you can stay informed about your books and not pay any unnecessary late fees.
    • Free shipping: Knetbooks ships every order free with no minimum purchase required. They also offer free return shipping. Just print a prepaid UPS label from your account and return the book to any UPS Store or drop location.
    • Helpful customer service: Knetbooks’ customer service representatives can be contacted via chat, phone or email. You can also find answers to common questions on the Help Desk page.
    • Over a million customers: Since its founding in 2009, Knetbooks has served over a million students and saved them over $98 million compared to buying books new at retail.
    • Best for college and university students on a budget.

  • CampusBooks

    Founded in 1998, CampusBooks is an online textbook comparison website based in San Diego, California. It helps customers find textbooks to rent or buy at the lowest prices from available sellers.

    • Price comparison tool: Campus Books offers a helpful comparison tool to allow customers to visualize their savings. It compares its current prices to those at nearly all other major textbook rental companies, including Amazon.com, CampusBook Rentals, Barnes & Noble marketplace, Chegg and more.
    • Buy vs. Rent tool: CampusBooks takes the guesswork out of the pros and cons of buying versus renting. Its patent-pending Buy vs. Rent tool compares the total cost of ownership of each book in your order to help you determine what makes the most sense for you.
    • Library search feature: There’s no need to buy or rent a textbook if it is available free at your local library. CampusBooks automatically searches local libraries’ inventories so you can save even more money if a book is available near you.
    • Price transparency: CampusBooks promises there are no hidden fees or surprises at checkout. You can see the real total price in your shopping cart at any time, including coupons and discounts, shipping and taxes.
    • Selling tools: If you have textbooks you’d like to sell, CampusBooks helps you find comparison buyback prices from major textbook resellers. You can get paid fast through cash, check, Paypal or store credit.
    • Best for college and university students on a budget.

  • Amazon Textbook Rental

    Founded in 1996, Amazon.com is one of the world’s largest online retailers and marketplace websites. It began as an online bookstore and today offers books and textbooks for sale and rent. Those who prefer to rent textbooks can choose from several independent merchants in order to get the best price.

    • Satisfaction guarantee: Amazon guarantees that you will receive an acceptable textbook, but if you’re not satisfied you can return the book. You have 30 days to return it for a full refund, which is longer than most other rental companies.
    • Competitive prices: Because textbooks are available from multiple vendors, the prices are often more competitive than other websites. You can choose between available vendors to find one near you with the best price.
    • Prime eligible: Amazon Prime members can enjoy free two-day shipping on rental orders. If you’re not a member of Prime, you can join Amazon Student for the same benefit.
    • Simple returns: To return your rental any time after the first 30 days, go to your Amazon.com account and print a prepaid return shipping label.
    • Simple extensions: You can add an extension to your rental at any time. If you end up not needing the extension, Amazon will issue a refund in the form of an Amazon gift card. If you are late returning a rented book, Amazon will automatically charge you for a 15-day extension.
    • Best for college and university students.