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.

4 Comments

  1. schmolch

    12/22/2008 at 8:19 am

    They cant rent out digital books because its not possible to protect their ownership over them.
    As with music and movies which you can get quick and easily from the Internet, meanwhile the same applies for books.
    You can get every book any student would ever need as a digital copy at the same places you would get your movies/music/software from.
    Electronic versions originate from the publishers themselves for usage within university networks (to save money) and thats where they leak out from

    Of course its illegal, but that did not stop anyone downloading music or movies, didn’t it?

    The only advantage real books have today is that most people have ordinary Computers or Laptops with relatively bad displays, but as soon as technology switches to e-ink displays and e-ink Tablets/Slates/Readers, the book-publishers will all die. Maybe it will be financed by taxes in the future, i would consider this a good alternative.
    Everybody pays some “culture” tax and receives access to every form of educational material he desires.

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  2. Sumocat

    12/22/2008 at 8:36 am

    schmolch: Since rental systems for digital video and music already exist, your comparison to digital video and music proves that a digital book rental system is possible.

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  3. fraggo

    12/22/2008 at 9:18 am

    The “Renting” of textbooks is currently available to students via CourseSmart(although I never tried it because it’s expensive compared to buying a digital textbook). I’m a student with a TPC so I use digital textbooks whenever I can. All of McGraw Hill’s texts have gone digital and they’re major so it helps a lot to buy a book for half price. For a hardcover book you can resell it for half price but you don’t get the benefit of keeping it unlike a digital version. I tried to rent a book on CourseSmart but it was half the price of a hardcover, but you only get to keep it for a semester since it expires, so I opted for the hardcover. Digital books is a great reason to get a tablet PC over a laptop, as it’s often lighter to carry multiple digital books in a 12″ tablet compared to a textbook.

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  4. Jose R. Ortiz

    12/22/2008 at 11:27 am

    Another TPC student here…iChapters currently has a rental type model for e-books. They seem to do much of the e-book conversion themselves on books that are not normally sold as e-books so their selection is massive. I’ve tried the rental model before but I prefer owning the book outright, but there are companies out there that provide e-book rentals for textbooks.

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