Much like everything else, the tuition costs at colleges across the country are rising. Unfortunately, it’s not just the cost of a credit hour that is climbing upward. Room and board, course fees, and the costs of textbooks have also increased. With regards to the latter, several companies – including Chegg and CourseSmart – have popped up in recent years, offering students an alternative to campus bookstores which ask a premium for new and used textbooks. These sites, which allow students to rent a new, used, or digital copy of a required text for a semester, have helped lighten the financial burden but might not be the perfect model.
In 2011, a group of students at Illinois State University launched Packback, a digital book rental service that has disrupted the traditional model. Through the Packback website, users can rent digital textbooks for a 24-hour period for $3-$5. The pay-per-use method lets students rent a textbook only when they absolutely need it – say the days leading up to a test or final – and allows them to save hundreds of dollars on books they might only crack open a couple of times during the semester.
Publishers, who often are at a loss when a student rents or buys a used textbook, also benefit from Payback’s model by gaining an additional revenue stream. Last year, the company launched a pilot program at their school with 680 participants. The students were surveyed and a separate analysis showed that their concept could boost revenue for publishers by almost 60%.
To date, the company has registered 3,800 users and created a nationwide brand ambassador program to encourage other students to sign up. The company, which recently struck a deal with billionaire Mark Cuban on the television show Shark Tank, is currently working to add more features to its platform, including a Q+A community board and textbook buy back program.