New Barnes & Noble service rents texts

As snow falls, pedestrians walk towards a Barnes & Noble book store in Arlington Heights, Ill.(

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Kai Ryssdal: The average tuition at a private college or university this year is going to run you about $26,000. Steep, but that is before all the extras. Like food, or a place to live. Or textbooks to study from. Books can easily run you into the hundreds of dollars.

But today, Barnes & Noble, one of the biggest operators of college bookstores around the country, says it's going to expand its textbook rental program. Marketplace's Alisa Roth explains the announcement adds some momentum to a big shift in the textbook business.


ALISA ROTH: When Barnes & Noble makes a move in the book-selling business, it can have a Wal-Mart effect.

Lorraine Shanley is a consultant to the publishing industry.

LORRAINE SHANLEY: Nobody's a Wal-Mart except for Wal-Mart, but there's certainly, you take them seriously when they get involved in something like this.

Barnes & Noble has stores on more than 600 college campuses. It's the second largest college bookstore in the country. So there is potential for it to change the business.

It's a business that up until now has struggled to grow. But last fall, Barnes & Noble's biggest competitor, Follett, also started renting textbooks. And several smaller companies have been making a go of it lately, too.

Kathy Mickey follows the education market at Simba. It's a market research firm for the publishing business. She says Barnes & Noble has to be involved in all areas of the textbook business if it's going to keep making money.

KATHY MICKEY: There are certainly a lot of different ways to get college instructional materials distributed in the higher-education market and the people who are interested, the companies that are interested in being primary distributors, such as Barnes & Noble, are going to have to tap all available avenues.

Students will clearly benefit from Barnes & Noble's move since renting is usually cheaper than buying even used books.

Textbook publishers and writers may be less excited. The more students rent, the fewer books they'll buy. And in the Barnes & Noble model, at least, there are no extra royalties for the rentals.

In New York, I'm Alisa Roth for Marketplace.

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