E-Book Library: Academic Presses Rent E-Textbooks

Although e-books are touted as an inexpensive alternative to regular textbooks, the used and rental marketplaces have helped 'real' books continue to dominate academia. A few academic presses are hoping to change that by offering short-term e-book rentals. Schools offering Archival Studies degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

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Students Still Save Money With Traditional Books

College is expensive, and textbooks represent a significant part of that cost. If you buy every book new for every class, you can easily spend hundreds of dollars per term on textbooks alone.

It's no wonder, then, that college students are always looking for ways to save money on books. Used textbooks have long offered a popular alternative, from the shelves of your college bookstore to websites like Half.com. They cost less for buyers and offer students the opportunity to make a little extra cash by selling back old books.

More recently, the rental market for print textbooks has exploded. Textbook rental services give students low-cost access to books for a limited amount of time. Whereas many purchased textbooks can't be sold back because new editions have been released or bookstores have a surplus of the same titles, renting books guarantees that you'll save money and not be saddled with an unwanted tome at the end of the term. In fact, according to the National Association of College Stores, textbook rentals increased fivefold between fall 2009 and fall 2010, leading them to dub 2010 'the year of the rental.'

E-book manufacturers have hoped to capitalize on students' desire to pinch pennies by touting them as a less expensive alternative to physical books. E-books sometimes have a lower sticker price and purchasers can often upgrade to the newest edition of a text without paying full price for a whole new book.

However, e-textbooks have struggled to break into the higher education market. This is partially because popular e-readers such as Amazon's Kindle have proven inadequate for academic reading, but it's also due to competition from the used and rental marketplaces for physical books. A new e-book is still a whole lot more expensive than a used 'dead tree' book.

Taking an E-Page From the Rental Market

In an attempt to cut costs for students - and increase the popularity of e-books in colleges - many academic presses have started offering e-textbook rentals. Inside Higher Ed reports that university presses at Stanford, the University of Michigan, the University of Chicago, Ohio State University and the University of Iowa have all launched digital rental programs.

Different presses are experimenting with different pricing schemes. Iowa's press offers rental terms that match the length of a semester (120 days) for a flat fee of $10, an incredible savings over even most used textbooks. Other presses offer variable costs for different periods of time. Michigan, for example, rents e-books for 30 days for 40% of the purchase price or for 180 days for 75% of the purchase price. Likewise, Stanford is offering a book that costs $20 to purchase (in paperback or electronic format) for $5 for 14 days or $10 for 60 days.

Rental is, in fact, a slowly growing trend throughout the e-book market. People who read e-books have already rejected the tradition of building a physical library. It's no surprise, then, that consumers are clamoring for a Netflix-style rental system that will give them access to thousands of e-books. As Chris Suellentrop put it in Wired Magazine, 'I'd rather be a renter in Borges' library than the owner of my own.'

As both academic and trade publishers start to get on the e-book rental bandwagon, electronic textbooks may finally have their chance to surpass regular books in savings - and popularity.

Learn more about the ongoing battle between digital and traditional textbooks.

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