Rent Or Buy Textbooks?

Cynthia S.
Cynthia S.

Textbooks are an important but often expensive component of the cost of education. Whether or not you are an incoming freshman or are perhaps even returning to school, the dilemma of buying versus renting textbooks may stare you in the face. This decision is not as straightforward as one would think it to be. In this article, we list out the many advantages and disadvantages of both buying and renting, to help you with making that decision.



  • Yours forever, to refer to in the future when you are studying further, or in your career.
  • You can annotate, highlight, or comment as much as you like, without worrying – because it is your textbook.
  • You can sell your textbooks to get some money back on your purchase price.
  • For some, owning their own textbooks may provide a sense of pride and satisfaction.
  • A few of your textbooks can pass on as ‘hand-me-downs’ to siblings, close relatives, friends, or your juniors at school.


  • Can be expensive to acquire.
  • The marginal utility of the book will translate to inefficient use of money.
  • Sorting, storing, and maintaining (from insects and humidity) textbooks can be quite a task, occupying time and space.
  • Selling your textbooks generally fetches a fraction of the price you would have paid for buying them.
  • The whole experience of selling your textbooks may not be a pleasant one and can be time-consuming.



  • Is usually, the most affordable option when compared to owning.
  • Saves the bother of sorting and storing, requiring substantially less space and time.
  • Serves as a trial or preview before actually buying your own copy. If you like it and think it will serve as a reference in the future, you can buy it.
  • Can often provide new, updated or revised versions of a textbook, without the expense of having to buy one (again).


  • You cannot (and are not permitted to) make annotations, highlight, or comment in the textbook.
  • Quite often, you may have to contend with someone else’s markings and annotations in textbooks.
  • Some textbooks may be heavily damaged or may have missing pages and/or supplemental material.
  • If you do not return the textbook on time, or if you have damaged it, you are likely to be charged a fine or fee, or even the full price of the textbook.


You can buy or rent textbooks from many websites, including AbeBooks, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, CampusBooks, Cheap Textbooks, Chegg Books, eCampus, and TextbookRentals. These sites provide heavy discounts on purchases, cheap rentals, and friendly return policies.

An Alternative

While both buying and renting textbooks are two common options, a third and new option continues to gain popularity – E-Books. Unlike their debuting years when they were afflicted with latency, bugs, and format wars, E-Books today have improved by leaps and bounds in terms of quality, reliability, functionality, and overall usability, making them a compelling alternative for students to consider. Besides, they potentially remove the dilemma of buying vs renting textbooks. Below are some of the benefits and drawbacks of E-Books.



  • Some textbooks can be rented for a month and then purchased, helping you decide whether you want to own the book at the full purchase price or not.
  • Owning the textbook is simple as a few clicks of the mouse or taps of your finger. No driving to the store, spending time locating your textbook, no queuing up at the cash counter.
  • You will not have to lug a bag of heavy textbooks everywhere you go. All your textbooks can be stored on your gadget or computer and be accessed anywhere, to study where you will.
  • You can access your textbook on your computer or phone/tablet for reference at any time, for the rest of your life.
  • You will likely have access to any online extras that come with the textbook.
  • You will be able to copy text and paste it into documents you are working on, with ease, thereby saving time and effort.
  • You can sometimes change the size of the font, annotate, highlight, comment, and keep multiple bookmarks, as you like.
  • There is nothing to have to try to sell back, once you have finished with your studies.
  • There is no storage space and maintenance required.


  • It may not always be possible to rent an e-Book if one does not want to buy one; rental options are generally not very practical or student-friendly.
  • E-Books do not offer a tactile feel, and the satisfaction of holding a physical book, which some may enjoy and prefer.
  • Extended hours of reading E-Books may cause soreness of the eyes, headaches, as well as cause some long-term health issues.




Before you can decide on buying versus renting textbooks, or for that matter even E-Books, you will do well to factor in the exact requirements of your courses and classes. Buying textbooks is recommended if you think you will need them to refresh your memory during and after your course. On the other hand, buying textbooks for fundamental and easier courses may not be as valuable in the long run; warranting the rental option. Finally, E-Books can be the right choice, if technology is your thing and you see enough merit in the advantages of owning E-Books.


In the end, the choice of what form of the textbook to purchase or rent is dependent upon personal preferences, note-taking styles, academic requirements, future career requirements, and budget. Whatever the choice, ensure that it is academically and financially sound.


Here at Online Masters Colleges (OMC), our goal is to provide students with all aspects of education including buying or renting textbooks. We also provide all other resources for students including financial aid, scholarships and all other types of resources.

Meet The Author

Cynthia S.

Cynthia S. is an educationalist and currently works as a lecturer at one of the reputed universities on the West Coast. She has a bachelor’s and is currently pursuing an online master’s in education. Cynthia has over ten years of experience in the field of higher education.

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