With Amazon’s announcement that textbooks will now be available for rental on the Kindle, the media has become inundated with articles praising the new service. Naturally, I was skeptical (see my original post), and so we did some digging at CampusBooks.
Turns out, sure, Amazon has fantastic prices–if you can get them. Research found that only 18% of the top 100 textbooks for back-to-school are available on Amazon’s Kindle rental service, as stated in the press release. This primary flaw is obviously a big one: Amazon’s service is a great deal, but with limited availability, is far from the game-changer the media is making it out to be. It’s a great use of hype and PR to get attention, but here are some of the holes I see in the story:
Textbook availability is scarce.
Although the ability to rent textbooks based upon days of use for Kindle is a great idea, there’s really no point to it if the necessary books aren’t integrated into the service. With only 18% of the top 100 college textbooks on Amazon’s Kindle rental service, only the lucky few students will be able to actually rent their books for Kindle.
Books are difficult to find.
When using the Kindle app, it’s basically impossible to find books using their ISBN number. This takes away flexibility for students who don’t have access to a computer, but do have the Kindle app on their cell phone or, god forbid, on their actual Kindle. It’s incredibly tedious to even find the textbook rental store on Amazon.com, and students may become discouraged when they have to search the entire site for it. You can find the prices if you search via ISBN via Amazon’s master search bar at the top of the screen, but with a new service to highlight, isn’t a new search method a good idea?
Available books are dated.
Most of the books targeted by Amazon’s e-book rental program are only books that have been in circulation for 18-24 months or longer, which is a direct targeting of the used book marketplace. This means, though, they’re taking on the same shortcomings of used books: not all classes allow students to use older editions of the textbook, etc. This further hinders student use.
Digital rental is not a new idea.
This is where Amazon’s marketing genius kicks into high gear. Although the term “e-book rental” may seem new and exciting, in reality, many digital textbook downloads have functioned in exactly the same way since inception. A flat fee is paid at the beginning of the semester, and once the semester ended, the book would be removed from whatever device the student was using or access revoked. Calling it Kindle Rental is a savvy ploy, melding the two hottest trend keywords in recent years: rental and e-Textbooks.
In conclusion, Amazon’s Kindle rental service has much more bark than bite, and follows in a long line of “digital promises” that have lead the market to believe that students out there are downloading digital books in troves, and saving money doing it .
While this may create a great story in the media, it’s not necessarily true. The truth is that publishers lose sales for new books the longer older books are on the shelf. E-textbook rentals are a play by the publisher to take back some of the sales they’ve lost from used books as well as the new physical book rental market. As I always stress, students need to stay educated on all of their options regarding books rentals, selling, and buybacks, in order to choose the option that works the best for them.