RedShelf allows you to rent or buy e-textbooks directly from their site, while saving up to 60% off retail prices. This includes digital content from the world’s leading academic publishers, trade publishers, and even self-published content.
Think you’ll have to download huge files? RedShelf helps you avoid this with their cloud-based reader, which allows you to access your content on any internet enabled device (including laptops, desktops, tablets, and smartphones), anywhere and anytime.
But does this mean RedShelf is right for you? Should you even consider digital textbooks?
To answer all your important questions, we’ll begin by taking a closer look at how RedShelf works.
How To Use RedShelf
Signing up for a RedShelf account is free and easy. All you have to do is enter your first and last names, email address, and password. Afterward, you’ll need to verify your account by clicking on a link contained in a confirmation email.
When you’re ready to begin browsing, you can search for textbooks on RedShelf by ISBN, title, or keyword. Find what you need? Depending on the title, you’ll be able to choose between 60, 90, 120, and 180-day rental plans, or you can purchase lifetime access.
Pro tip: Before making a purchase, you’ll be able to see if the e-textbook comes with digital notes or study tools, if you’ll be able to access the content offline (and how much), as well as how many pages can be printed.
After making purchases, these titles will appear on your Shelf (the main “hub” of your RedShelf account), where they’re available for easy access from any internet-enabled device.
Inside the e-textbook, you’ll find that it’s laid out much like a regular textbook, including a table of contents. But you’ll also be able to use page arrows to navigate manually, enter a specific page number, or perform a keyword search.
Each digital textbook will also include annotation tools like bookmarks and the ability to highlight, leave comments, and even make drawings.
Clearly, there are some advantages to digital textbooks (we’ll come back around to this momentarily). Is one of these advantages price?
Comparing RedShelf’s Pricing with Traditional Textbooks
At the time of our research, RedShelf’s e-textbook pricing ranged between $30 and $200 each. As with traditional textbooks, the higher priced items tended to be larger volumes focused on sciences (biology, psychology, etc.), while the lower end generally focused on English and the humanities.
But are they a good deal compared to traditional paper-based textbooks?
The 8th edition of A Writer’s Reference by Diana Hacker and Nancy Sommars was priced between $28.87 (60-day rental) and $51.67 (full purchase) on RedShelf at the time of our research.
For this same paper-based edition, the lowest price we were able to find elsewhere online was $59.99. So if you wanted to make a full purchase, it seems like RedShelf would be the way to go in this instance.
On the other hand, Managerial Accounting, Tools for Business Decision Making, 6th edition by Jerry J. Weygandt, was priced between $65.52 (90-day rental) and $87.50 (full purchase).
Elsewhere online, we found this same textbook available for as little as $6.47 (used), and as little as $31 for digital copies through other similar companies.
So in this instance, it appears that RedShelf might not be the least expensive option, by a fairly wide margin.
In any case, if you’re not satisfied with your purchase, RedShelf offers a 14-day refund policy, as long as you haven’t read more than 10% of the book. In order to request a refund, you’ll need to contact customer service at 888-622-9838.
Now that we’ve discussed prices, let’s discuss the company itself.
RedShelf’s Online Student Reputation
RedShelf is based out of Chicago, IL and has been in business since 2012.
There was very little available about RedShelf online at the time of our research (or about its parent company Virdocs Software, LLC), which is surprising, since RedShelf positions themselves as the “leading supplier of digital learning materials.” Neither was listed with the Better Business Bureau.
This lack of online feedback is even more surprising when you consider that, according to a 2014 Crain’s article, the company had signed contracts with four of the top five textbook publishers. Clearly, the company has a positive reputation within the industry and a track record of success, but it seemed odd that there weren’t any student reviews.
DigitalBookWorld.com claims that RedShelf was originally started by two college kids from Detroit, including CEO Greg Fenton and CFO Tim Haitaian. Here, COO Tom Scotty was quoted as saying, “We help lower the cost to students and we help educational publishers and institutional bookstores realize new revenue streams.”
RedShelf was also named a Top 100 Finalist for the 2015 Chicago Innovation Awards “for its innovative eReader software platform.”
Outside of RedShelf, are there other options out there for renting or buying digital textbooks?
Other Digital Textbook Retailers
In short, there are a lot. To see for yourself, type the phrase “digital textbook,” “e-textbook,” or “digital textbook rental” into any search engine, and you’ll receive dozens of relevant results. This includes stiff competition from industry behemoths like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, as well as from smaller companies like CourseSmart.com, Chegg.com, DigitalTextbooks.com, and more.
In fact, the competition is so stiff that RedShelf doesn’t appear on the first page for any of these search terms.
The bottom line? Digital textbooks can make your life easier, but it’s important to research all your options for where to purchase them.
Speaking of making your life easier, what are some other benefits (as well as drawbacks) for e-textbooks?
Pros & Cons of E-Textbooks
The Amazon Kindle was only released in 2007, and was immediately a hit. In fact, it sold out in just over 5 hours, and remained out of stock for months. Clearly, there was a great deal of consumer demand.
Since then, just about every publisher imaginable has jumped on the digital bandwagon, so it’s no surprise that digital textbooks have become increasingly popular. But are they right for you?
Digital Textbook Pros
Perhaps the biggest advantage over traditional textbooks is the price of e-textbooks—especially if you’re thinking about renting instead of buying.
Convenience is another big factor. You won’t have to lug around heavy books all over campus, and if you need to download a book during a 2am cram session, you’ll be able to do so immediately.
Digital Textbook Cons
On the other hand, most e-textbooks may not come with CDs, music, DVDs, access codes, or lab manuals, although this is often the case if you purchase used paper-based textbooks.
You’ll also be required to purchase an electronic device to view RedShelf’s textbooks, such as a laptop or handheld device, which can further increase your overall costs.
Speaking of which, you’ll need internet access to view your e-textbook’s content, although some of these allow you limited access, even if you’re not connected to the internet.
Did you access your digital textbook on your laptop before heading to class, but forgot to log out? Since you can only view RedShelf’s content on one device at a time, you could be out of luck if you need to reopen the book once you’re in class.
Also, although the number is always growing, RedShelf only has agreements with 340 college bookstores in 23 states (mostly concentrated in CA, OR, WA, UT, MN, GA, IA, WI, MI, OH, PA, NY, and CT).
Finally, there can sometimes be less than a $20 difference between renting an e-textbook through RedShelf, and purchasing lifetime access. And as we noted above, they may not always be the least expensive option.
Is RedShelf the Way To Go for Digital Textbooks?
There are a whole lot of companies out there similar to RedShelf, each vying for your attention (and your money). Of these, perhaps the biggest advantage related to RedShelf is their industry-recognized eReader platform, which can allow you to access content anywhere and at any time.
Despite this recognition, RedShelf might not always be your best (or cheapest) options, so be sure to do your research before making your decision. HighYa is a great place to start!
Have you used RedShelf in the past? What did you think of your experience? How do they compare to the competition? Let us know by writing your review below!