Chegg, Fending Off Rivals, Overhauls Textbook Rental Site to Include Class Scheduling and Homework Help

3/24/11Follow @wroush

Chegg, one of the first movers in the online textbook rental business, has attracted some tough competitors like BookRenter, so it can’t afford to stop innovating. And this week the company is out to show that it hasn’t.

The Santa Clara, CA-based startup today unveiled an overhauled website that ties its rental business together with two recently acquired services, CourseRank and Cramster. Now Chegg’s collegiate customers will be able to peruse course catalogs, see ratings for professors, add classes to their schedules, and get homework help from the same site where they get their books. Chegg CEO Dan Rosensweig says the overhaul is a bid to put the venture-backed company’s brand in front of college students every day, rather than just the “maybe four days a semester” when they’re ordering and returning books.

CourseRank, which offers a directory of courses at 600 college campuses, is free; Cramster, the tutoring site, is a freemium service with tiered pricing that kicks in after the first 14 days. By integrating the three services with its catalog of 4.2 million textbooks, Chegg has built “the beginnings of a platform to personalize around the student, the course, and the school,” says Rosensweig. “This is the beginning of the opportunity for us to be more relevant more often.”

As we’ve reported, archrival BookRenter also has plans to use turn its rental operation into a platform for reaching students with more products and services, including e-textbooks that might be available by the chapter. The San Mateo, CA-based startup just raised $40 million to beef up its operations and go after its larger competitor. Chegg is comfortably ahead in this race—its customer base is about five times larger than BookRenter’s, and Chegg has raised at least $150 million all told—but Rosensweig says the company must keep reinventing itself. “What I’ve learned in my 10 years in Silicon Valley is that if you don’t continue to innovation and build and invest, somebody else is going to come around and build something,” says Rosensweig, who has been CEO at Chegg for about 13 months.

While six-year-old Chegg may look from the outside like a textbook rental company, its larger mission has always been to help students “save time, save money, and get smarter,” Rosensweig says. The ability to rent a textbook for just one semester for a third or less of the cover price has “for obvious reasons become an extremely popular proposition,” he says. Most of the company’s capital so far has gone to buying books and building the Web-based platform that allows students to order them from the company’s Kentucky warehouse. But now it’s enhancing that platform with technology acquired last year from CourseRank and Cramster. Tabs for the two services appear at the top of the new Chegg website, right alongside the “Rent Textbooks” tab.

CourseRank was created by five students at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. “What they have built is a service that lets students rate their professors, read the ratings, actually schedule their class, and find out who else is in the class,” says Rosensweig. “It’s the beginning of a social education platform, if you will. So now Chegg is also in the business of … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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