Amazon just took another bite out of the remaining college bookstores, with the announcement of the Kindle Textbook Rental program. The new way to get the textbooks students need at a fraction of the price. Can Amazon convince students to ditch their paper textbooks and jump from the current digital textbook front-runner CourseSmart?
The Kindle Textbook Rental program will work with the Kindle and with Kindle apps for tablets and smartphones, which gives Amazon an edge over the current champ, but even with a number of publishers on board Amazon faces an uphill battle.
The new program allows students to rent textbooks starting with a 30 day period and going up in 1 day increments as long as the student needs the book.
For the past few years every course I have taught has had a digital textbook available for purchase or for rent. Usually these prices shave at least $50 off the purchase price of a book, but despite the cost savings many students find it cheaper to purchase a print book and share with two or three students.
This is a small sampling, but highlights the reluctance of students, even tech savvy ones, to adopt digital textbooks which can’t be turned into cash at the end of the semester or shared to cut costs further.
Publishers and Selection
The program includes books from publishers like John Wiley & Sons, Elsevier and Taylor & Francis, which cover a good number fo textbooks. Unfortunately there are also a good number of publishers missing such as Prentice Hall and McGraw Hill, both of which are part of CourseSmart.
Even with a somewhat sparse selection at first, Amazon has titles that you can’t get through CourseSmart. This is great news for students that want to go digital and already have a Kindle supported device. Students are used to shopping around for hardcopy textbooks, so they will likely shop at different stores for digital textbooks if needed.
The biggest issue with spilt bookstores is that Amazon doesn’t need to compete with CourseSmart for most titles, and vice versa. Students still see good prices on digital textbooks, but it means that renting may only save you $10 to $20 over buying the digital version. Also, short of sharing your Amazon account, it is impossible to share and split the cost of a textbook.
Chegg.com offers hard copy textbook rentals, the ability to share and a 21 day return policy which attracts many students. When looking at the rental prices for four books on Amazon’s textbook rental programs, renting at Chegg.com was a better deal half the time, with prices fluctuating $15 to $20 either way.
Ultimately Amazon’s entry into digital textbooks is good news for students. They still need to compare prices on a number of fronts, but thanks to the ability to use Amazon Textbook Rentals on the iPad, iPhone, Android Phones, Android Tablets and pretty much any device with a Kindle app students can save and take their textbooks wherever they go. It will be interesting to see if Amazon goes after the ultimate textbook decision makers, teachers, to get their publishers in the classroom.