updated 11:50 am EDT, Mon July 18, 2011
Amazon Kindle textbook rentals go live
Amazon started off the week with a potentially crucial strategy to corner the school market. Kindle Textbook Rental lets students rent e-books for as little 30 days and as many as 360. The rental fees change on the term length and theoretically save as much as 80 percent of the price.
The rented textbooks will work on any platform, including Amazon's own Kindle readers as well as the apps for desktops and competing platforms like the iPad and Windows Phone. Highlights and notes will still be visible on the web even after the rental is over, making sure students can go back if a related course needs the information or if a rental ends too early.
Digital textbooks have been gaining speed in recent years but have almost always been focused on purchases over rentals. E-book versions usually cost less than their print counterparts, but publishers often choose purchases since it preserves very large profit margins while simultaneously preventing the resales they dislike with paper. Rentals provide a way to get closer to resale prices.
Amazon has so far had a tougher time getting adoption in education. It has picked up educational material but has usually only had limited trials and deployments in colleges. Apple has had better success with its more flexible iPads and has attracted enough attention to see Kno switch to iPad apps and publishers reformat books.
So far, Apple doesn't have a ready-made solution for textbooks on the iBookstore and doesn't offer either rentals or lending, regardless of the field. Amazon may be hoping for a first-mover advantage in an area the company has underserved.