July 18, 2011
Textbook Rental Comes To The Kindle
The promise of electronic textbooks has been with us for awhile. Anyone remember the competing platforms of Folio on Lexis and Premise on West? Both companies sold electronic versions of their casebooks in the 1990s, though they were heavily drenched with DRM that nearly suffocated a text's utility. That is one of the major reasons why we remember them rather than use them in those old formats now. Fast forward to 2011 in an age of Kindles, pads, and apps, all connected online, and the legal eTextbook is making a cicada-like reappearance, sort of.
Amazon has announced a Kindle-based textbook rental program. There is a law section, and it does list books commonly used in legal education. The problem is that many of the casebooks listed, typically from West or Aspen, have no electronic counterpart. The titles that are available electronically are likely not going to be assigned as a reading by an instructor, with the possible listings for some of the legal research and writing titles. I assume this lack of commonly used textbooks in electronic form is based on the continuing publisher paranoia that a reader may actually get more value from a book for which there was no payment, or that all law students are assumed to be theives. I suppose, it's best to guard the goods under these circumstances.
Details of the rental program are here. The Amazon textbook store breaks its listings down into subjects with law as one of the topics. I wandered through approximately 100 title listings before I found a West casebook in a Kindle edition. That was Business Law by Clarkson, Miller,Jentz, and Cross. The Amazon hardcover prince comes to $189.49. The Kindle Edition is priced at $157.56. The rental price is $45.19, if I rented it starting today ending my lease on September 30th. Extending it to October 31st would extend the cost to $55.39. That's still significantly lower than the harcover price for a new copy. Amazon, however, lists the same title as used starting from $29.95. That's a significant saving on the Kindle edition if a purchaser can actually get a copy at that price.
Comparatively, Cengage Learning offers the same title for $223.49 in hardcover, as an eBook for $131.49, and chapter rental for $3.99. Complete text rental is $83.99 for 60 days and $94.49 for 90 days. There are options for more time that are more expensive. Cengage allows for access via portable devices in addition to PCs, at least that's the impression I get from their FAQ. I would think there are other distributors out there as well. The moral of the story is to shop around to find the best deal that fits individual needs. I've only described price here. Choice of a distributor can take into account many different features and delivery systems. Amazon promotes the fact that the texts they rent have note-taking features and that these notes will be available after the rental period expires. I don't know if Cengage offers anything comparable. Note that all of these prices are listed as of July 18th. They obviously can change with the market for the goods.
I think that the textbook rental market opening to electronic devices such as the Kindle is a great development. Not everyone wants to carry expensive, heavy books and keep them any longer than they would need. A textbook in a Kindle Edition is a positive step. It would be great for law study if more commonly used textbooks were available, giving students a choice in formats and vendors. Some commentary on the Amazon store is in Ars Technica. The only question I have at this point is whether I've violated some rule or something or other because I referenced current prices that exist on publicly available web sites? [MG]
I like the fact that textbook rental these days is a great help for most students who have no means purchasing all the textbook they need. There just so many online companies offering renting services for everyone. Whether you want to just rent or buy used books, they are there ready to help.
Posted by: Romnick | Mar 24, 2012 12:57:52 AM