Due to increasing options for acquiring textbooks, fewer students have used the USM Bookstore to buy their books.

According to Nicki Piaget, Director of the USM Bookstore, sales peaked three years ago and have been slightly decreasing ever since. Much of this is attributed to the new market for textbooks online.

Along with the success of this new market the USM Bookstore has seen a significant amount of interest in their own online sales, which represent 20 to 25 percent of their total sales. Piaget said deciding how many books to stock is now more complicated. For a class of 40 students, 40 textbooks were ordered. Now that number is smaller and the deciding factors are a combination of the history of the class’ book sales and the popularity of the class.

The prices of the textbooks are determined by the publishers. The USM Bookstore sells used books for 25 percent less than the full publisher price. Used books are popular there, but Piaget said, “I think what differentiates us is that they’re returnable here. People get stuck with books. Our mission is to carry all books for all courses.”

USM has its competition. As the recession continues, more students have looked beyond the bookstore in order to save money on textbooks.

Eric Cyr, a junior business major, said price steered him away from the bookstore in search of a new source for his books. He describes them as “overpriced.” As an alternative to the bookstore Cyr turned to a website called Chegg.com, as recommended by a friend, which rents books to students.

He found and ordered the three books he needed from the website. They’ve already been shipped and are waiting to be picked up. The most appealing aspect to Cyr is that it’s easy to use. All that’s needed is an ISBN number to find the book desired, and then a red button, “rent”, will complete the transaction. This particular site saved Cyr $150, which he described as “pretty cool,” and recommends this site to other students. Cyr said friends of his have also used Chegg.com as well as half.com and the USM Bookstore.

Chegg.com’s Vice President of Public Relations Tina Couch showed enthusiasm for the website proclaiming, “We believe that we’re helping solve a real social and economic problem with college students-the high cost of textbooks.” According to Couch the company was founded in 2007 by Aayush Phumbra and Osman Rashid who simply, “believed there was a smarter, more cost effective solution to textbooks-renting them.” She said the company’s hope is that in the way Netflix transformed video renting, Chegg.com will do the same for textbook renting.

There’s good news for Chegg.com so far. Couch said popularity has “grown tremendously,” and in two years they have saved college students over $100 million. In addition to these savings, the company plants a tree for every book that is rented. So far they have planted over two million trees and they’re not stopping. Chegg.com has also gotten very positive feedback from students. The company has a brand ambassador program called Chegg Champions through which students can earn money by promoting the company.

Another online company, Cengage Learning, recently began offering a textbook rental option.

“We recently entered the textbook rental business because we are committed to providing innovative learning solutions to meet all budgets and learning styles,” said Lindsay Brown, director of corporate communications. ” With the launch of our rental program on CengageBrain.com, we are continuing to respond to students’ needs for additional lower cost options for obtaining the high-quality content students and instructors have come to expect from our company.” Cengage Learning’s revenues grew from $1.7 billion in 2008 to $1.96 billion in 2009, while sales through iChapters.com-which became CengageBrain.com in December 2009-have grown by 50 percent over the last year. Brown said that the program, while just recently launched, has had positive feedback. She said it’s simple and convenient to order from CengageBrain.com and can save students 70 percent off some retail titles when rented. There are many ways to access textbooks; now the challenge for students is finding their best option.

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