Amazon Hastens the Death of Print With Kindle Textbook Rentals

The death of print? Still happening. Last Monday, Amazon.com, which was once a twee (if monolithic) online bookstore, launched the Kindle Textbook Rental program, an innovative e-book program that permits students to rent textbooks at a discounted price, customize their rental period, and permanently archive their notes. But can digital textbooks really compare to the musty tradition of fiendishly heavy hard-copy textbooks? They’re about to give it the old college try.

With tens of thousands of textbooks to choose from, anyone renting from Kindle Textbook can choose the length of the rental period (anywhere from 30 to 360 days). After the rental period is over, students can check out the next batch, or, if they flunked the course (or just love Organic Chemistry so much), purchase it or rent it all over again. Rented textbooks can be read on all Kindle devices, Macs, and PCs, plus smart phones and tablets with Kindle apps. Kindle textbooks are never out of print, since they’re not printed. And they’re sold at up to 80% off the original list price of the dead-tree version. For the college kids who sell Adderall their souls to pay for textbooks, this is certainly welcome news.

One big advantage of Amazon’s new program is its Whispersync technology, which lets Kindle readers take notes as they read. In addition to being able to highlight specific passages and jot down observations in the margins, Whispersync allows readers to hang on to all their notes, even after rental expires. Convenient? Very.

Perhaps best of all, students can escape the big end-of-semester money massacres known as the textbook buyback program. Every student can tell you about waiting hopefully in line with a big stack of returnable textbooks, only to leave with a crinkled twenty and the bitter realization that they just got felt up by the system.

The benefits of renting digital books are obvious. Save money, reduce waste, and avoid getting scoliosis from lugging around three five-pound textbooks. For the many students who still believe in the beauty of the printed page, actual textbooks are still available – for now, anyway. After all, some folks still enjoy doodling in class. So fear not, Gutenberg; your efforts are appreciated by the analog among us. For the rest, E-Ink will do just fine.

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