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Kindle launches textbook rentals

College students go digital

Last week, Amazon.com launched its hottest new e-book product with its Kindle textbook rental service -- college students can now rent digital versions of the textbooks they need for up to 80 percent off the retail price. Sounds great, right? Check out the details on the latest way college students are using technology in their education.

Kindle with textbooks

Why go digital

With fall semester right around the corner, college students and their parents all around the country are anticipating record-breaking tuition hikes this year -- students at the University of Washington will pay 20 percent more than they did last year for tuition -- or almost $2,000 more annually. On top of tuition that's sky-high, students can expect to pay on average of $1,100 for textbooks each year at a four-year public university, according to The College Board, one of the nation's leading resources for college-bound students.

Amazon.com's launch of rentable textbooks seems to be the solution -- not only is it using the latest technologies for college students to study and engage with their material, but saving such a significant amount of money on textbooks is hard to resist.

How it works

According to Amazon.com's Kindle textbook rental page, purchasing your e-textbook is easier than a trip to your college bookstore. Simply visit Amazon.com and search by textbook title, author or ISBN number in the Textbooks section under the main category of Books. If your textbook is available for rental via Kindle, you'll see the option in the Formats box to the right of the book cover. Just click the "rent" button and choose your length of rental -- anywhere from 30 to 120 days, depending on how long you need it -- and download to the device of your choice in seconds. You can even choose the exact day that the textbook will expire to minimize your costs. Easy as acing your Bio 101 pop-quiz, right?

Price breakdowns

Amazon.com claims that you can save up to 80 percent on your textbooks by using their Kindle rental service. We picked one of the top textbooks under the Accounting category -- Intermediate Accounting -- to see an actual cost comparison. A brand-new hard copy of this text is available for $196; or you can purchase a used copy in good condition for as little as $70. Via Kindle rental, this same textbook in digital format is $61, which allows you to use is for 120 days, the length of a full semester. That's a savings of almost 70 percent over the brand-new hard copy.

The only other cost associated with using Amazon.com's Kindle textbook rental service is the actual cost of the Kindle (currently for as low at $139), but having a Kindle-type device isn't a requirement -- you can also download the digital textbook file onto your laptop, desktop computer, iPad or even your phone. Beware, however -- the file can only be downloaded to one device, so if you choose to put it on your stationary dorm-room computer, you won't be able to carry that textbook into the classroom with you for those open-book tests.

The positives

Besides the obvious upside of the cost savings and the ease of ordering your textbooks via Amazon.com, other pros for Kindle textbooks are

  • not having to wait in the long bookstore line on the first day of school only to be told that they didn't order enough copies of your textbook,
  • being able to highlight sections of the text, which can be saved to your digital device for future use (your highlighted selections do not expire with the textbook rental)
  • not having to lug 60 pounds of textbooks from one end of campus to the other.

The concerns

However, renting digital textbooks has raised concerns from students and professors. Students who have used e-versions of their textbooks say that reading their textbooks on their electronic device (Kindle, iPad or phone), left them more fatigued than reading it from a traditional textbook -- especially when they were also spending countless hours writing papers and doing research online.

First-year law student Kelli Currie says that her traditional textbooks are filled with multiple highlighter colors and notes in the margins, which would be difficult to duplicate if she were using a digital version. Currie also notes that although the cost of renting a textbook at such a discount is appealing and that she could probably adapt the way she studies to work with a digital textbook format, it would take a lot of effort to make the transition.

In general, college classrooms aren't prepared to make the transition to a 100 percent digital-textbook world. When you consider scenarios where professors give open-book tests and some students only have their textbooks on their iPad, which also has Internet access, those students have an obvious advantage.

The future of digital textbooks

Just like all of the other new, hot digital devices in this modern life, eventually, the trend of e-textbooks is sure to catch on. Results on whether students retain more information studying textbooks in traditional verses digital formats are yet to be seen -- some reports indicate that students who use digital textbooks are, in fact, more successful than those who do not, which would certainly prompt a big push by educators and schools to move more of their material into the digital arena.

Tell us

What do you think? Are the cost savings by renting digital textbooks via Amazon.com worth making the transition from studying with a traditional textbook to using a Kindle?

Leave us comments below about your experiences!

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