Rafter and the High Cost of College Textbooks

Who remembers standing in that huge line at the campus bookstore near the end of a semester with a stack of used textbooks in hand? You’re hoping to sell the book back for a little bit of money so you can … you know, EAT that evening.

Textbooks are insanely expensive, especially if you buy them through the campus bookstore. The high cost of books has driven customers online to places like Chegg, the most popular textbook rental service. A new edtech company Rafter, formed from the rebranding of one of Chegg’s competitors, BookRenter, aims to bring the textbook-purchasing process back to the campus in a more effective way.

Last week we wrote about Flat World Knowledge, a free and open textbook option that challenges the traditional model of academic course material. It’s an interesting alternative especially when asking. why exactly are textbooks so expensive? The answer isn’t all that easy to understand. In a particularly lucid article on the matter, Mental Floss reports “The National Association of College Stores has said that roughly 33 cents of every textbook dollar goes to this sort of production cost, with another 11.8 cents of every dollar going to author royalties.”

At the moment, textbook pricing remains high, but Renter wants to bring down the cost of such college materials by contracting with universities and colleges to help their stores acquire the materials in a more effective way. The idea is to simplify the acquisition of materials so that the stores can sell them at a lower price, thereby reducing the entire cost of college.

Rafter recently acquired San Diego-based startup HubEdu, a company that developed a price comparison tool that could be integrated into student purchasing, allowing the school to better understand the transactions taking place on campus. Rafter wants to use the analytical and tracking program developed by HubEdu to improve the methods by which they deliver course materials to colleges and students.

Rafter’s cloud-based platform enables schools to improve the affordability and accessibility of course materials. Through its roots with BookRenter, the company’s network claims over 500 campuses, and serves millions of college students. The acquisition of HubEdu promises to deliver an even greater audience. Rafter provides students with the ability to rent or purchase books. Who remembers the Expensive Book You Never Actually Used? Rafter wants to cut down on the cost of those books that college students supposedly need for courses, as well as the ones they legitimately need.

Observing the reaction to the high cost of textbooks is very interesting. Publishers need to sell the books at exorbitant costs because they don’t sell as many books as Stephanie Meyer does. Students respond by renting, sharing, or buying outdated books. Companies then spring up to take advantage of the student’s plight. Colleges then wonder how they can get the customer back to their campus bookstores. Somewhere in there is Rafter, a company which will probably make more acquisitions similar to HubEdu as they continue to refine their business model of getting students the course materials they need. We’ll be watching this company with interest.