Amazon Targets Cash-Starved Students With Kindle Textbook Rentals

Students can save up to 80% on college textbooks by signing up to rent them on the Kindle. Here’s what the move says about Amazon’s plans for e-readers and tablets going forward.



Amazon‘s Kindle textbook rental offer will likely be awfully tempting to penny-pinching college students. By renting a copy of a textbook for 30 days to 360 days, after which time the book digitally evaporates, you can save up to 80% on the list price, according to Amazon.

Textbooks are unquestionably expensive. As an example, a particular book on crystallography I used for about five years cost me £80 when I could barely afford the rent…or, more importantly, beer. So Amazon’s likely using this promotion as a way to snag new customers, hoping that its offer tempts even broke, e-readerless students who will shell out for a Kindle or a tablet that’ll run the Kindle app in order to save money in the long run on textbooks. And while there is a thriving market for used textbooks, because of their usually high list price, even used books cost a pretty penny–not to mention, they weigh a hell of a lot more. Instead of hauling heavy, scruffy, marked up copies of thousand-page textbooks around, you’d merely have to carry a Kindle.

The joy of having your own paper textbook is that you’re able to scribble notes in the margins and on empty header pages. Even secondhand editions have potential, if the previous owner was an astute student who added value with her observations. If you annotate your Kindle book, and its rental period expires, you may be worried you’ll lose all that insight. But Amazon’s thought this one through. Amazon will keep your annotations, letting you “access all of your notes and highlighted content in the Amazon Cloud, available anytime, anywhere” and you can still use them “even after a rental expires,” David Limp, VP of Kindle, says in the press release. Enhancements to Whispersync make all this possible.

The notes-keeping capability gives us a clue where Amazon’s planning to make money with textbook rentals. “If you choose to rent again or buy at a later time, your notes will be there just as you left them, perfectly Whispersynced,” Limp said. In other words, Amazon’s hoping you actually will need to load up that tome on the hygiene habits of market traders in Mesopotamia for a second time, long after you first needed it, because of your need to look something up or you’re approaching exam time and need to refresh your memory.

This may also reveal some clues about Amazon’s tablet PC plans here. A push to encourage e-textbook rentals is one thing, but handwritten notes on a textbook would work far better on a smart, colorful touchscreen than the Kindle’s e-ink unit–something students have already figured out, opting instead for iPads.

[Image: Flickr user lainetrees]


Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.

About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise.