The Kindle may be the king of e-readers, but it has a long way to go before being accepted as an acceptable replacement for textbooks. When Amazon's device was introduced at Princeton for classroom assignments recently, it received mostly negative reviews. Now the Kindle's budding classroom legacy is being challenged by Chegg, an online textbook rental service that just raised a whopping $112 million in a round led by Insight Venture Partners.
Chegg deals in good old-fashioned print books, but saves paper by letting students rent textbooks in a Netflix-like model. The company, founded in 2007, already serves hundreds of thousands of students at 6,400 colleges, and the new cash infusion will allow it to grow even more. Unsurprisingly, it will probably be able to keep the Kindle at bay.
While school administrators have argued that the Kindle can cut textbook costs in half, Chegg's service takes 60% to 75% off a book's retail price. Not to mention that there's no upfront hardware cost. And while the Kindle may work just fine for novel or newspaper-reading, you'd think that it would be far from ideal for students who want to highlight or underline passages in a book. In fact, probably the main complaint about using the Kindle as a textbook is that it isn't interactive enough. Any student worth his or her salt likes to scribble notes in their reading assignments, or at least on post-its.
Yet Sarah Epps, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., predicts in five years textbooks will be the biggest market for e-book devices. "The technical barriers will disappear and five years is enough for the content to catch up with demand. The potential is there," she told Bloomberg today. Granted the devices will improve, possibly even enough to win over detractors.
Until then, Chegg adds another sweetener for sustainability-minded students trying to decide between electronic or paper textbooks: For every textbook rented, the company plants a tree. So far, Chegg has planted 1.5 million trees--a testament to the enduring allure of print books.