Amazon Expands Textbook Rental Program Beyond Digital Texts

College students looking for a break on textbook prices now have another option. Starting this fall, Amazon has expanded its textbook rental program to include both digital textbooks and traditional paper books. Students will be able to rent any textbook in Amazon’s catalog for a set fee as long as they commit to returning it within 130 days in good condition.

The company has been operating an e-textbook rental service since last year, and many students have taken advantage of it in an effort to save money. Although some comparison shopping shows that the digital editions of the textbook will still have lower rental costs, the price for renting a traditional textbook will still save students as much as 70% off the full purchase price.

For example, the 2011 textbook “Intermediate Accounting” by Donald E. Kieso is offered in both rental programs. The rental fee is $57 for a print copy or $53.79 in digital form. A new hardcover copy sells for $195.47.

Students will have to cover shipping fees for receiving the books, but they can send the books back at no extra charge. Students also have an opportunity to purchase the book outright at any time during the rental period.

Once the initial 130-day rental period concludes, a 15-day extension is available for a small additional charge. If the book isn’t returned by the end of the rental term, the extension is granted and the added fee is charged automatically. If the book is not returned in the 15-day window, the full purchase price is automatically assessed.

“Please do not ship the book to us once you have been charged the buyout price,” Amazon says on its website. “That book is yours to keep.”

Amazon said rental books will be either new or used, depending on the copies that are available.

Although some damage to the rented book – the kind associated with typical use – is acceptable, the company reserves the right to refuse to accept the book back if it considers it to be excessively marked up. In such cases, Amazon will ship the textbook back it to the student and charge the full purchase price minus the rental fees. Other kinds of damage, like water damage, missing pages, ripped, broken or missing covers and binding, and even a strong smell of cigarette or tobacco smoke, might also render the book nonreturnable

Using the rental service is a snap for anyone who’s ever purchased anything from Amazon. Students can simply use the standard Amazon search to locate the textbook they need, and if the book is available to rent, clicking “Rent Now” will add it to the Amazon shopping cart. Then it is just a matter of selecting a shipping and payment method and the book is on its way — much like it would be if it was purchased.

At the end of the rental period, you return the book for free through a prepaid, printable label. The due dates are stored in your Amazon account, and for those with a sieve memory, the company will send you reminders as the day approaches.

In a statement accompanying the announcement of the rental program, Ripley MacDonald, the Director of Textbooks for Amazon, explained that the with the growing financial burden that college education imposes on students, giving them an opportunity to save money on textbooks could make a real difference between being able to afford higher education and being forced to do without it.