Renting College Textbooks: Is This an Opening for Tablet PCs?

chegg In an article about Sequoia Capital’s view on the souring tech economy there’s an interesting mention of a company called Chegg, that is supposedly the nation’s #1 textbook rental company. Not only do the rent textbooks to students they plant a tree for every textbook you sell to them as they also buy your books in addition to renting them.  But couldn’t this entire business get even greener?

Chegg, and other companies (if there is a number 1 there must be others) could go even greener if they were able to break the age-old publishing business model of hard copy text books and rent out digital versions to students. From the looks of things on their site this is all a hard-cover business that deals with shipping and returning the rentals. I’m sure the rate of books not returned is a factor in the business model. They do allow limited highlighting.

Digital textbooks with some sort of date stamped DRM could be a boon to students who would choose to rent books, and it could potentially be a boon to the Tablet PC market as well, given how well reading and marking up digital material work on those devices. Sure you wouldn’t need a Tablet PC to make this work, any notebook or Netbook would do the trick. Those of us who’ve been using Tablet PCs know the benefits that can come from using and reading textbooks on those devices, and many discussions on that point focused on purchasing the books as I recall. While that makes sense from a publishing standpoint, I’m wondering if the model could shift to accommodate digital rentals. After all other forms of content have quickly gone down this path.