By Jeff Lagerquist
Napster revolutionized the way we acquire and consume music. So what if the same kind of quantum leap were possible for academic texts? Three ambitious Ryerson students might have what it takes to make that happen.
Called Peertexts, the website is a peer-to-peer book sharing service that allows students to borrow and lend textbooks required for the upcoming year. Not only can they be significantly cheaper than book store prices, but the concept could prove a resounding success with money- conscious students hoping to save during the year ahead.
“We’re hoping to revolutionize the way people get textbooks,” explains Ade Labinjo.
“Instead of buying a book for $100, borrow it for $30, and [the lender] makes money at the same time.”
The 20-year-old business management student launched the initial site last year with friends Mike Di Giulio, 21, and Justin Yee-Ching, 20, both in Ryerson’s information technology management (ITM) program.
After registering on Peertexts, students can search for books and send requests to potential lenders. If accepted, both parties agree on a price, due date, and place to meet on campus where the book can be exchanged.
Compared to other sites like Craigslist or Kijiji, “the benefits are continual, whereas with selling, you just lose [money],” says Di Giulio. “We have to educate [students] and show them there is a better way.”
Conceived during their first year of classes, the original idea was to create a micro-loans service for small businesses. They pitched a business plan at the RBC Innovators Challenge, but the legal and logistical problems were too great for three first year students to pursue the idea further.
It wasn’t until the fall of 2008 when Labinjo contacted Di Giulio and Yee-Ching, and their focus was shifted to textbooks instead.
“We spent many hours at Ryerson, on the whiteboard, constantly brainstorming and throwing around ideas, just trying to figure out how we [could] make this work,” said Di Giulio.
Other sites, like Textbooks.com and Chegg, rely on costly warehouses and inventory systems to sell their books. Peertexts, however aimed to cut out the middle-man and rely on a peer-to-peer style of exchange instead.
Not only does the strategy save students money, but it means the site can remain profitable, despite its smaller size; Peertexts pockets a fee of $3.99 from each successful sale.
The system has worked well for Zakaria Kibria, 22, a fourth year ITM student who heard about the site through friends. He’s since used the site to lend two textbooks, and borrow at least three so far — saving over $100 in the process.
“It’s very easy to use. The transactions are smooth,” said Kibria.
However, Peertexts is not without its shortcomings.
“It’s really just core courses. It would be better if it had more in depth courses, more elective ones,” he continues.
The site’s creators echo this sentiment. So far 83 titles are available for Ryerson students, and 219 in total are listed from the nine southern Ontario schools that currently participate. With students returning to class, they hope the spike in traffic will be enough to make the site go viral.
“Our overall mission is to make university and college more affordable and accessible for students,” said Di Giulio. “That will be the turning point.”