Friday, August 31, 2007

Textbooks for Rent

As US College students all prepare to return to campus, have launched a new textbook rental service.

Why rent when you can buy? Well text books aren’t cheap and often only a fraction of the content is required but more importantly once you have completed the course do you need the book? The used textbook market has always existed and flourished and with used book sales now widely available over the net, why buy new when you can buy an old copy cheaper?

Bookrenter have tikiman as their logo and who says on his MySpace Facebook websites ‘I’m the life of every luau party and quite the tiki girl magnet! I enjoy surfing (both in cyberspace and on the scenic beaches of Hawaii), eating at Wahoo's Fish Taco, and of course, saving college students money by renting them books at affordable prices.’

Well what more could you ask for, a cool dude who wants to rent you books at a fraction of the cost of new. Why buy when you can rent?

They offer new or used textbooks for flexible rental periods from 30 to 125 days and simple return process. A bit like Blockbuster videos, delivered to your door with an addressed label for return. The student can even buy it at the end of the rental period at a reduced price. They even add a touch of ‘greenwash’ saying that, ‘By re-renting books, hopes to reduce the approximately 20 million trees consumed a year by the US book publishing industry’.

Is the service any different to a library loan and if not, why can’t libraries do it? What happens if you write some notes or mark the book , after all that is what often happens to text books? Given that they are partnering with Amazon it also begs the question of whether the stock is merely pulled down from Amazon as new and returned there as used stock.

The bookrental model appears to be very simple, cleverly aligned with Amazon and could have wide appeal. However, will it further cannibalise the already hard hit campus stores? Also, as we look at the academic and wider learning market, we now see the emergence of true digital customised content or course pack materials. Will these work with, or against this new business model?

Finally there is an interesting question about rights and how these relate to rental, in usage, royalty and the library world.