When it comes to renting or buying textbooks, students can pick from several different services to help them find the best deals. It’s often hard for university stores to compete with independent vendors, since wholesaler agreements can inflate stores’ used-book prices above their market value. It’s also tough for stores to track which titles students choose. So one textbook-rental company, BookRenter, is today introducing a spinoff company that it says will help university stores compete. The spinoff will do so by making it easier for stores to see how their textbooks are priced elsewhere.
The new company, called Rafter, was born two years ago and grew out of BookRenter’s university-store-services platform. Mehdi Maghsoodnia, BookRenter’s chief executive, said the spinoff came to life because institutions needed a better way to structure their selection of course materials and save students money. Whereas Chegg, one of BookRenter’s competitors, appeals primarily to students with its textbook offerings, homework help, and course reviews, Rafter’s set of tools highlights the company’s focus on working with a large group of university stores to bring prices down.
The company’s cloud-based service aggregates prices for new, used, and rented textbooks, giving university stores more negotiating power to find the best deals for their departments. Professors can use Rafter’s discovery tool to see what books their peers are using in courses at other institutions that use the system. And students can buy or rent their course materials through Rafter, choosing home delivery or in-store pickup at their campus bookstores.
Rafter seeks to help stores recoup revenue lost when students buy their books through third-party Web sites. With Rafter’s mobile search tool, students will be able to find their books and compare campus-store prices with those on popular sites like Amazon.com and Half.com, and they may find that the bookstore offers the best deal. Mr. Maghsoodnia called the new service a “complete package for course-material management.” The company says 500 institutions are already on board.
Rafter’s introduction comes after its parent landed $40-million in venture-capital investment last year, and Mr. Maghsoodnia said that money helped drive the new service’s development. The platform is free for universities, and the company says it will make money by taking a share of the revenue its partners bring in.