The Truth About Renting Textbooks From Amazon and Apex Media

Updated on February 11, 2019
crankalicious profile image

I've been a successful manager at a college retailer for over 28 years.

Who's This Article For?

There's much consumer information here, but the article will also help bookstore professionals understand the calculus of online textbook rentals and aid them in being more competitive.

To be fair, Apex Media isn't Amazon's only third-party rental provider. There are several. However, the basic terms of their rental contracts are mostly the same and the appearance of their terms is universal on Amazon.

The Intermediate Accounting book by Kieso costs a bookstore $222 to purchase. Most bookstores sell that book for $296, which is their normal 25% mark-up. Some bookstores who use dynamic pricing may sell it for slightly less. Even Amazon, which sells certain books at a loss, charges over $200 for a new copy.

Through its partner, Apex Media, Amazon rents this same textbook for $39.99 (at least this was the rental price on January 28, 2014). How do they rent a book that cost them $222 for $40 and make money and should you be renting from them?

Understanding the math of making money on this kind of rental from the business side and knowing what you need to avoid paying costly buyout fees are keys to benefiting from these low prices and understanding the textbook rental market. Those who don't understand these things run the risk of being charged some extraordinary fees.

Read the Fine Print

When renting textbooks from any online source, even Amazon, it's critical that you read the fine print.

  • What happens if you return the book in damaged condition?
  • What happens if you return the book with too much highlighting or writing in it?
  • What happens if you ship it back Media Mail and it never gets there?
  • What happens if you forget to return the book entirely?

Were you aware that approximately between 10% and 20% of rental customers don't return their rental textbooks in a timely manner? Rest assured that the late fees associated with late returns and non-returns factor into the prices Amazon and Apex Media are able to charge for their rental textbooks. In fact, they have it built into their rental model that a certain percentage of customers will not return those textbooks and this likely factors into their decision to reject some textbooks as too heavily written in or damaged.

What happens if you are late?

Did you read the fine print on Amazon's site?

"If your book is not received with a postmark of the due date or an earlier date, we will automatically extend your textbook rental period by 15 days and charge you for a 15 day extension, and if the textbook is still not received with a postmark of the extension due date or an earlier date, we will charge you the purchase price (as of the time of rental) less any rental fees and, if applicable, extension fees already paid. Please do not ship the book to us once you have been charged the buyout price – that textbook is yours to keep."

What's the Buyout Price?

In the above example where Amazon and Apex Media are offering to rent this $296 textbook for $39.99, did you notice the "buyout price" of $388.50? Does that seem a bit excessive to you?

If you're one of the 10% or 20% of students who don't return their textbooks on time, you're going to get hit with an additional $20.99 charge for sure. If you're one of those students who just forgets to return the textbook entirely, you're going to get hit with an additional charge of $327.52 ($388.50 - $39.99 - $20.99 as noted in the fine print in the blue box to the right. That's well over $100 more than what the company paid for a new copy of the book.

While it is not uncommon for bookstores and rental companies to charge heavy fees for unreturned or late returned rental textbooks, Apex Media and Amazon are able to work this into their rental model because they're an online company that's not beholden to any University and rarely if ever has to deal with customers face-to-face. When you write to complain after being charged this amount, they'll simply email you back and tell you that you've violated the terms of your rental contract and there will be nothing you can do about it.

There's no way a brick-and-mortar business could get away with this.

Can I highlight and write in my book?

What happens if I highlight in my book too much?

"As a courtesy to future customers, we ask that you limit your writing and highlighting to a minimal amount. If we determine that the book is no longer in acceptable rental condition when you return it, including because of excessive writing or highlighting, you will be charged the full purchase price, less any rental fees and extension fees you have already paid, and we will ship the book back to you to keep."

Who Defines What is Excessive?

There is a critical piece of fine print in the gray box to the right that basically gives Amazon and Apex Media the right to reject almost any rental book that is returned on time and charge the buyout fee. While it's not clear whether there is a direct relationship between Amazon and Apex Media, if we assume that Apex Media is its own company and attempting to make its own profit, the application of the buyout price may be a critical piece of their business model.

What's known as "breakage" in most rental businesses is used as a pro forma, predictive factor in budgeting. In other words, a company factors in a certain number of unreturned rentals into their budget equation. The secretive nature of the relationship between Apex Media and Amazon means that we'll likely never know anything about this, but it's not uncommon for a company to predict their breakage rate and then reject a certain number of returns as a result of their budgetary needs based on the vague factors explained to the right.

Does "excessive writing or highlighting" mean 10 pages or 20 pages? The fine print allows the company to basically reject any returned rental textbook for any writing whatsoever depending on their need to make money at the time.

Rate Your Opinion of Apex Media's Late Fees (1=Good, 10=Criminally Unfair)

See results

Why Can't My Local Bookstore Charge the Same for This Rental?

There are three main reasons that a brick-and-mortar store, or your local college bookstore, can't compete with Amazon's rental prices: the limit on breakage fees, the limit on the number of turns for each rental title, and the limits placed by the university or college (if it's institutionally owned) or business on the amount of risk the store can accept.

Turn represents the number of times a business can expect to rent a particular title. On a title like the Kieso accounting book used in this example, it has an edition life of about two years. Apex Media can expect to turn their rental 6-8 times, while the conventional college bookstore can only expect 3-4. The automatically means that Apex Media can afford to charge about half of the rental price of a traditional store.

Factor in the high breakage fees charged by Apex Media, and that rental fee can get even lower. If for every 10 books Apex rents at $39.99, they are able to charge 2 customers $388.50 for not returning it, they will make profit on their investment on the third rental. Stores that have to answer to a university and deal with real customers simply cannot charge the same high breakage/non-return fees.

Finally, with a virtual guarantee on increased turns and a final sale of their book at the end of its rental cycle, the risk for Apex Media is considerably lower. Institutionally-owned stores are traditionally risk-averse, so it's almost impossible for them to offer competitive rental prices. The institution won't allow it. Corporate owned stores are more risk-tolerant and have a wider network, so their turns are usually higher, but even they can't charge those high non-return fees, so their rates are also going to be higher on average.

How Does Apex Media Make Money and When?

Although non-returns can be as high as 20%, let's assume that Apex Media's non-return rate is 10%. That means for every 10 books they sell, 1 doesn't come back. 10 books costs them $2220. They rent those 10 for $40 each, making $400. 1 doesn't come back, so that customer is charged $388.50-$40-$21, for a total of $327.50. After 1 turn, the company has recouped $727.50 on their $2220 investment.

The company now has 9 books left. They rent those 9 again for $40. They're going to have 1 book not come back either in the second rental or the third. For argument's sake, we'll say it occurs here. So again, they charge one customer $327.50. Their total revenue on this turn is $687.50. So far, they've taken in $1415.00.

On the third rental, they have 8 books left and rental all 8 for $320. All 8 come back and they now have revenue of $1735 on their investment.

On the fourth turn (remember, they could get 2-4 more turns), they rent 8 books for $320 and have 1 non-return for which they charge $327.50. Their total revenue on the fourth turn is $2382.50. They've turned a profit!

Now consider two things, Apex Media can get 2-4 more turns on the remaining 7 books and can likely sell them at the end of their rentable life for between 25% and 50% of their original cost.

The profit is quite impressive.

Who's to Blame?

The bottom line is that it's the consumer who is to blame when a rental textbook is returned late or not at all. The consumer is the one who knowingly and willingly enters into a contract with the rental company and agrees to the return dates. When those dates are not met, there is nothing the customer can do.

While the rental prices Apex Media offers through Amazon are very attractive, there is a steep price to pay for those who don't meet their deadlines or condition requirements. Know what you're getting into when you rent from Apex Media through Amazon.

What's Your Experience Been Renting Textbooks?

Submit a Comment
  • PDXBuys profile image


    4 years ago from Oregon

    Pay $388.50 for a buy out? I sold my 1991 Subaru Legacy wagon a few years ago for only $350 in Los Angeles - that was the best I was offered. How can a running vehicle be worth less than a single textbook? Freakonomics...

  • universitymom profile image


    4 years ago

    My son has on occasion rented textbooks and has never had a problem. Just take reasonably good care of the book and return it on time. Another great option from Amazon is to rent the e-version of the textbook when available.

  • crankalicious profile imageAUTHOR


    6 years ago from Colorado

    Apex Media and Amazon offer great prices on their rental textbooks, so people who return their textbooks on time and in good condition are getting a great deal. However, people need to know what the consequences are for violating their contract, like in any endeavor.

  • FlourishAnyway profile image


    6 years ago from USA

    This is even worse than when I was in school, much much worse. Thanks for writing on the topic.


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)