This week, all of the big news has been about Amazon’s announcement of Kindle Rental. Everyone from SmartMoney to MarketWatch are posting articles and press releases touting the new service, which claims to offer 80% list prices and flexible rental. BlackBook even sounds the toll, claiming the
new service “hastens the death of print.”
Really? Death? Luckily, a few smart journalists have taken pause to actually look into the new service, and I have to agree.
Combining digital and rental definitely is an innovative service, but it is not new by any means. eBooks in the college space have always been “rentals” meaning that they have a term assigned to them for how long you have access to the content. Since the early digital projects from coursesmart and the universal digital textbook project the eBooks always had an expiring term. Someone just got smart and started calling it a rental.
I have five points we should remember when looking at the new Amazon Rental service:
1. Its textbook options are limited.
If you’ve been following along, you know that CampusBooks released data from last semester, showing the different prices for the top 25 textbooks searched and purchased. We tried to see how Kindle’s new rental stacked up, and guess what? Only three of the top 25 books search on the site were even available on the new service.
Granted, 25 textbooks is a small sample size, but it’s still significant that a service claiming to change the college textbook game has limited textbooks available. We’re looking into a larger sample size for more insight, but right off the bat, this is a warning sign that Amazon Kindle Rental might not be as easy and helpful as they claim.
2. Does flexible rental time make sense for a four month semester?
A 30-day rental sounds great for the student that crams, but does it make sense for the average, dutiful, semester-long renter? If students were to buy their textbooks now for the entire next semester, they’d be looking closer to 150 days. Maybe Amazon Rental will make more sense for those crammers or English students only looking at one novel at a time. For most, shiny 30-day prices up front don’t do students much good, and they need to be careful and see what the cost will actually be.
3. There’s still no resale value.
This has been my biggest point for those heralding the demise of print. Like CampusBooks reported in its press release, if you rent or use an eBook, at the end of the semester, you have nothing to show for it. A tangible print textbook is a re-sellable investment. Granted, there are all the counter-points, e.g. new editions and changing courses, but it’s still a question that’s not being brought up enough.
4. Does renting from Amazon Kindle cost less?
This is yet to be seen, but we ran a preliminary test against our top 25 CampusBooks data, comparing the cost of a Kindle Rental to buying and selling a used book. Like I mentioned above, only three were available as Kindle Rentals. Two of them were a good $10 to $20 more expensive than buying and selling the used book version.
5. Students still aren’t buying digital.
This is a major point to remember. As much as the press and thought-leaders hype digital trends, the reality is that most broke college students aren’t running around with an iPad tucked under their arm. And most won’t– at least not until it’s significantly and obviously cheaper. Don’t get me wrong. I know that the digital revolution is coming and will be here faster than we think but for right now it is limited by the titles being offered and the devices students have.
What do you think? What are your thoughts about the impact of Amazon Kindle’s Rental?