Startup Aims to Disrupt Textbook Rental Industry


Packback Rental textbook Image

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.

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