Amazon announced on July 18th that many of the college textbooks that they offer for sale are now available for rental at a fraction of the cost. Yes, you heard that right. Amazon is giving college students a break! A buy-product of the digital world and online education in general, any student can rent a college textbook from Amazon IF the book is available in e-book format. (Unfortunately, not all of them are—yet.)

Renting textbooks online versus buying them is nothing new; there are several textbook rental shops online that can save students up to 50% on the rental of books. So why would a college student want to rent an e-book from Amazon, as opposed to someone else? Because A) Amazon has the most comprehensive collection of textbooks to offer, and B) the savings on Amazon e-books rental are expected to be consistently higher than those found on other online bookstores. Plus, students can keep Amazon rented e-books anywhere from 30 days (the minimum rental time) to 360 days, renewing the book as many times as he or she wants in increments as small as one day at a time.

But What About My Notations?

Even in e-books students make notes and comments in the margins, and highlight passages that are important to remember. These types of notations are invaluable because in many cases students take notes ONLY in their textbooks, foregoing the spiral notebook entirely.

Unlike a rented physical book (such a book from a library) you don’t own the book, and therefore, you’re not supposed to write in it ever. In this new situation, however, a user is allowed to make as many notations in a rented as e-book as he or she likes, since once the rental period is over the book simply disappears from the student’s e-reader. But the really cool part is that Amazon keeps track of your notations, so if you decide to buy the e-book later (even if the e-book has already been deleted from your e-reader), Amazon sells you the copy that has all of your original notes in it. In other words, Amazon retains your copy for you, just in case you decide to re-rent it or buy it someday.

And Speaking of Buying…

You can convert your rented e-book to a purchase any time during the rental period without penalty, however, Amazon has not made clear yet if any of your rental dollars go toward the purchase price of the e-book, or if you even get a discount. My guess is that they haven’t quite got that all figured out yet. So consider buying any e-textbooks you think you might want to keep. That way you don’t pay for the rental of the book and then the purchase price.

What Kind of Savings Are We Talking About?

Plenty! Renting an e-book costs about 80 percent less than buying the same book in hardcopy, and is about 65 percent less than buying the e-book version, as shown below in an actual example from the Amazon website:

ebook rental

And if you don’t own an e-reader, you can download one of Amazon’s free Kindle apps for your iPhone, Mac, iPad, PC, Windows 7 phone, Android, or Kindle. Which means you don’t have to go out and buy a new device just to read your e-books. You probably already own something that can be used as an e-reader.

There are downsides, however. Unlike a physical book you can’t share your rented e-books with your friends (which actually might be a plus, depending on how you look at it). And you can’t sell your e-books back at the end of the semester in order to make a little money. Which is why Amazon keeps the cost so low in the first place—so students DON’T have to wait until they sell the books back to recoup the savings.

And in case you’re wondering, this economical e-book rental option is only for textbooks, NOT for just any book. You still have to buy the e-book versions if you want to read the most recent bestsellers on your Kindle. This new e-book rental option is ONLY for textbooks and was designed specifically to give college students a break.

So even though the cost of going to college has been going up, the cost of textbooks is actually starting to come down. That’s good news in this economy. Plus, it’s just one more example of how the digital world (including online education and now rented e-books) is making education in general accessible to a wider range of people.

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