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E-book textbook rentals sound like an amazing idea. Neither the textbook rental market or the digital textbook concept have brought the price of quality textbooks down as fast as we'd like. But combine digital with rental, and perhaps we've achieved some real disruption.

Certainly Amazon is not shy in pushing its rented digital textbooks. The site advertises the potential to "save 80% of the list price." Renters can choose how long they will need the book, from 30 to 360 days, therefore lowering the rental costs.  

Rented Kindle textbooks are also convenient, as students can interact with them on their smart phones, tablets, or computers.

The only problem with Amazon's Kindle textbook business seems to be that Amazon has been unable to convince many publishers to participate.  Trying to find a textbook to rent on Amazon is like trying to find a video to watch from Netflix's streaming service.  Great technology, forward looking concept, and a critical dearth of quality content.

Search for "Sociology" in the textbook section, and sort by popularity. The first 3 titles (Conley, Henslin, and Macionis) all lack a rental option. The first Sociology title that I know about that is available for rental is Schaefer (McGraw-Hill), which rents for $37.48 for 60 days.  Renting the textbook until mid-December will cost you $46.42, still cheaper than buying the Kindle version ($71.92) or the paperback version ($93.39) - but still expensive.

Jumping around to other disciplines did not seem to yield much better results for Kindle textbook rentals.  Nor could I easily navigate to a list of available rentals in a discipline (unless I missed how to do this - as this seems like an obvious navigation option), making it difficult for a professor to assign books specifically for student Kindle renting.

Some questions:

  • Do we have any research on student preferences?  Would they be perfectly happy with a digital only copy that disappears after the class is over?
  • Is it a better deal for students to rent a digital copy than buy a textbook and sell it back, or buy a used textbook?
  • Does anyone have a list that correlates the largest selling textbooks with the various options that students have to digitally rent these books?
  • Can anyone shed light on how the economics of digital textbook rentals compares to paper rentals, or paper or digital purchases?
  • Do we know which publishers have been more willing to license their digital textbooks for rental on Amazon, and which publishers are trying to bypass Amazon and rent their e-books directly to students?
  • Do we know if the proliferation of digital textbook options, from buying to renting, has had any impact on lowering the textbook bill for students?
  • Is Amazon planning to do in textbooks what they have done with Kindle Singles, that is bypass the publishers and come out with their own Kindle only introductory texts?
  • Where can we go to make sense of all the changes in the textbook market?

Clearly I have more questions about digital textbooks and the textbook market than answers.  

Maybe you can provide some clarity.

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