Troy Rhodes Jr., a 22-year-old junior at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, founded MyBookBorrow.com in 2009.
No way! When Rhodes sold his college textbooks at the end of the spring 2008 semester, he received $18 -- for books that cost him $560 just a few months earlier. There had to be an alternative way, he thought. So over the next year, he developed MyBookBorrow.com, which allows students anywhere to save on textbooks by renting instead of buying. When a student requests a textbook, Rhodes (or one of the three friends who assist him) finds a used copy from one of the two textbook distributors that are MyBookBorrow's suppliers. Rhodes then provides a rental quote (after checking on competitors' rental prices and Amazon's purchase price) to the student. If the student agrees to the price, Rhodes buys the book and has the supplier ship it directly to the customer. When the semester ends, the customer ships the book back to Rhodes, who keeps his stock in a $22-a-month storage space. The idea is to rent a given book multiple times during its academic shelf life. This semester, for example, MyBookBorrow paid $4.97 for a used copy of The Prentice Hall Anthology of African American Literature, which has a suggested retail price of $97.40. A student rented it for $13.99.
Taking on Goliath: The textbook-rental industry has become a crowded one over the past three years, led by Santa Clara, California -- based Chegg, which has raised more than $150 million in venture capital. "Chegg is the big boy, but our motto is that we're for students, by students," says Rhodes. "I'm out there doing promotions, not sitting at home."
Jason Del Rey was a senior reporter covering technology, branding, and company culture for Inc. magazine. Before joining Inc., his work appeared in Newsday, The (Newark) Star-Ledger, and the Staten Island Advance, and on ESPN.com. He lives in New Jersey. @DelRey
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