In an era of Redbox and Amazon Prime where thrifty customers commonly rent movies for a fraction of their total cost, it is perhaps strange that book rentals in the same vein are overlooked. One explanation, perhaps, is lack of public knowledge—people more commonly associate book rentals with college textbooks, not fiction. Thoughts may turn to war-scarred flashbacks of their college days, in despair over the $200 they unwillingly paid for Introduction to Biology, 5000th edition.
However, book rentals in similar format to movie rentals exist, and the occasional bookseller, such as The Book Store in Appleton, offers inexpensive rentals for new fiction releases. Store owner Kalan Bavinck says while renting new fiction offers distinct benefits—certain benefits that even libraries can’t offer—there are reasons why it generally hasn’t caught on.
“It’s not common,” Bavinck says. “There was a store up in Green Bay, and many years ago they used to do that too. They hadn’t done it in years because in that area people weren’t really interested.”
The Book Store rents out several new releases from best-selling authors such as James Patterson, Janet Evanovich, John Grisham, Michael Connelly and many more. Customers can rent the books at $4 per week or $6 for two weeks, which is not only cheaper than buying outright, but customers can also take the rentals home right away, something libraries cannot always do with often long waiting lists for the most recent releases.
“[The rentals] give people a chance to try out a new author without having a huge investment because most paperbacks now are $8.99, $9.99, and many are in that trade paperback size which can cost 16 bucks,” Bavinck says. “So for $4, you don’t mind giving something new a try.”
Bavinck says not all genres are available for rental, however. The Book Store mostly offers mystery/thriller books for rental, mainly due to their popularity with customers, along with general novels and espionage stories, and select romance novels are also available. However, Bavinck says a difficulty of rental books is that some genres are less popular to rent than others, to the point where genres like sci-fi and fantasy become unprofitable for a smaller-scale store to keep on rental shelves.
“We seldom have sci-fi and fantasy for rent. We definitely know for instance that sci-fi readers aren’t going to be renters,” Bavinck says. “Sci-fi people keep their books. They want to keep it; they want to reread it.”
Bavinck says another difficulty is how long it can take to finish reading a book. Unlike a movie which can be completed in around two-and-a-half hours, books can sometimes take weeks or even months to finish.
“We have several regular renters who … are super fast readers. Many of our regular customers don’t rent because they don’t want a time limit,” Bavinck says. “For instance, I read all the time, but I am a slow reader, and many books I could not finish in two weeks.”
Pricing is also a factor. Slower readers would have to rent the book for a period longer than two weeks, but by that point, the price of renting becomes nearly as expensive as buying outright.
To keep book rentals alive at a small location, Bavinck says it’s important to tailor the reading selections to customers who frequently rent, as opposed to having a broad range of genres and selections to rent that go unread.
“We’re constantly reading reviews before we decide what to put in the store, and … we are constantly asking customers what they think about the new releases,” Bavinck says. “We get a lot of retired customers, so they are more than happy to spend a good 5, 10 minutes [talking about what they read] so we can get a good feel about what type of person doesn’t like this book.”
And for those who read slower or who otherwise prefer to buy the books they read, The Book Store has a wide range of used titles to choose from, which Bavinck says is attractive to renters and non-renters alike.
“Many of our renters, about 60 percent, are retired and are often consistently caught up on their favorite authors, and on the opposite end, our younger readers are more interested in going back to older [used] books, so there’s a good balance there,” Bavinck says. “And our used books are good when people rent something new, decide, ‘I like it; I want to go back to their older series.’ So I think we’re trying to have kind of a well-rounded approach to it where there’s many options for the types of readers going in.”
In addition, Bavinck says at their price point, a used book at The Book Store is often cheaper than online booksellers like Amazon once shipping and handling is factored.
“Our used books many times are cheaper than Amazon if you have trade credit with us,” Bavinck says. “Mass-market paperbacks generally are $2.50 or less if you [trade in used books], and generally nothing comes from Amazon for less than $4 once you add on shipping. And you can always call or email us to see if we have a particular book in our stock currently.”
To find out more about The Book Store, located on 293 West Northland Ave., visit their website or call 734-8908.