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Amazon Lets Students Rent Digital Textbooks 174

Posted by Soulskill
from the disrupting-the-textbook-cartels dept.
nk497 writes "Amazon has unveiled a new digital textbook rental service, allowing students to choose how long they'd like access to an eBook-version of a textbook via their Kindle or app — with the retailer claiming savings as high as 80%. Kindle Textbook Rental will let students use a text for between 30 and 360 days, adding extra days as they need to. Any notes or highlighted text will be saved via the Amazon Cloud for students to reference after the book is 'returned.' Amazon said tens of thousands of books would be available to rent for the next school year."
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Amazon Lets Students Rent Digital Textbooks

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  • Bad idea (Score:5, Interesting)

    by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Monday July 18, 2011 @12:02PM (#36801290)
    I routinely find myself referencing textbooks from courses that I took years ago. If students cannot afford their books, university libraries should provide copies; students should not be at the mercy of Amazon or any other company.
    • Re:Bad idea (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 18, 2011 @12:06PM (#36801310)
      They should choose books that don't charge hundreds per copy. The textbook racket needs to be broken up with kickbacks to instructors or universities strictly called unethical.
      • Re:Bad idea (Score:5, Informative)

        by bcrowell (177657) on Monday July 18, 2011 @02:29PM (#36802770) Homepage

        They should choose books that don't charge hundreds per copy. The textbook racket needs to be broken up with kickbacks to instructors or universities strictly called unethical.

        Oh, please. This nonsense about kickbacks shows up every time this kind of topic is discussed on slashdot. Could we please have some evidence for these supposed kickbacks? I'm a college professor. I have never been offered a kickback by a publisher. I have never heard of a kickback being offered to any of my colleagues. It doesn't make sense to talk about kickbacks going to the school, either, because it's faculty who make decisions about textbooks, not administrators.

        Yes, it would be great to have more books that don't cost the equivalent of their weight in heroin. But guess what? The traditional print publishers don't offer cheap textbooks. Using old books isn't an option, because accrediting bodies will ding you if you're using a book that's more than about 5-10 years. (Those bodies don't care if the subject is one like freshman calc that hasn't changed in a hundred years or more.)

        The best thing is if faculty write books and make them free online. I've done that. (See my sig.) What have you done that makes you part of the solution rather than part of the problem?

        • I'd be curious, did you author or co-author any of the textbooks that you use? When I was at university, particularly at graduate level this was quite common. So while there might not be kickback per-se there is quite an incentive to use those books that one has written. An while you could argue that the author is receiving just compensation for his work, I'd argue that all or most of that work was funded by the same university whose students now need to purchase overpriced textbooks.

          OK, so I re-read you
      • The biggest problem with textbooks is the fact that they are needlessly revised every year. Creating new editions reduces the usefulness of earlier editions, thus cutting into the used textbook market. I explicitly tell my students "use edition x or newer", rather than insisting on the newest edition. This requires microscopically more work on my side, while saving students massive amounts of money, since they can buy used textbooks. In some courses, I no longer use a textbook at all, as all necessary infor

    • Dpends on your field, I think. I still have my old computer programming textbooks from university, but that's more due to nostalgia than anything else. Especially for things like languages that significantly over time (such as java), keeping old books is pointless.

      • by vlm (69642)

        Dpends on your field, I think. I still have my old computer programming textbooks from university, but that's more due to nostalgia than anything else. Especially for things like languages that significantly over time (such as java), keeping old books is pointless.

        Syntax of fast moving targets yes. Concepts, no. Knuth is still good stuff.

        Basically old IT books are about as valuable as old IT software and hardware. On the other hand, old CS books are still valuable.

      • Dpends on your field, I think. I still have my old computer programming textbooks from university, but that's more due to nostalgia than anything else. Especially for things like languages that significantly over time (such as java), keeping old books is pointless.

        So true. And it made me wonder. Is a science something in which the text books change slowly not annually? Computer science versus computer enginieering versus computer vocational training? How can it be science or even engineering if the textbooks go obsolete so fast?

    • I routinely find myself referencing textbooks from courses that I took years ago. If students cannot afford their books, university libraries should provide copies; students should not be at the mercy of Amazon or any other company.

      Amen to that. If I didn't have many of the textbooks from old courses I took, it would almost be as if I never took the course in the first place. I have always thought that in many courses, you aren't merely taking them to fully learn the actual knowledge...you are taking them to learn that the knowledge actually exists in the first place. Later you find that you need the knowledge, or that it is interesting to you, and you go back and re-read the textbooks.

      • Didn't you take notes in those courses?

        In my first semester I made the error to rely on the text book (well, at least in one course). After that, I wrote complete notes for any course. Which resulted not only in me having the complete material covered in the course without paying anything, but also having it memorized much better than by using the book, because it all went through my brain in order to get into my notes.

        • Re:Bad idea (Score:4, Insightful)

          by catchblue22 (1004569) on Monday July 18, 2011 @01:13PM (#36801982) Homepage

          Didn't you take notes in those courses?

          In my first semester I made the error to rely on the text book (well, at least in one course). After that, I wrote complete notes for any course. Which resulted not only in me having the complete material covered in the course without paying anything, but also having it memorized much better than by using the book, because it all went through my brain in order to get into my notes.

          Did I say I didn't take notes? I often find that in a field that I have continued to study or use, going back to the textbook is more useful than going back to my notes. In fact, I sometimes find that sections of the textbook that were less useful to me when I was learning the material become more useful as a way to solidify and enhance my knowledge. If the material has been digesting in my brain for a few years, the reliable and thorough explanations in a good logical textbook make more sense than they ever did before.

    • by nedlohs (1335013)

      University libraries likely do, when I taught we put a few copies of the text for the class into the reserve.

      Why shouldn't amazon offer an additional service to students?

      • Re:Bad idea (Score:5, Informative)

        by h4rr4r (612664) on Monday July 18, 2011 @12:48PM (#36801694)

        A few is exactly right. As a poor college student I tried to use those, sadly when you have 400 folks taking one class the three copies in the library are not exactly enough.

        How about not using a new edition of the book every semester?
        Or for something like Chemistry 101/Calculus how about using something in the public domain? Not like either of those fields have really changed in the past 100 years.

        • by jo_ham (604554)

          Chemistry hasn't changed much in 100 years? What are you smoking and where can I get some?

          Even the intro/101 stuff has changed. Not enough for a new edition of a textbook every year, but you could not teach modern chemistry from a 100 year old textbook. Even a 50 year old textbook.

          • Has it changed, or the way it's taught? It's been about 25 years since I studied chemistry. I'd been given, several years before that stage, a copy of one of the books that covered the inorganic part. And the person who'd given it to me had used it 15 years before - and it wasn't new when he got it.

            Now I haven't read it for some time (it's at my parents' house ... somewhere), but If memory serves me well it refers to Fluorine as a halogen, and if it mentions phlogiston theory at all it's as a passing not

            • by jo_ham (604554)

              If you think "discovering a few new elements" is all that has changed in 25 years then you're just not keeping up, but if it's not your field then it may not look like much has changed.

              I suppose nothing has changed in computing in the last 25 years. I mean, computers have got a little bit faster, but do we really need a new textbook to tell us that? Just a scratch on the surface.

        • by bcrowell (177657)

          How about not using a new edition of the book every semester?

          We did this at one time on my campus with our conceptual physics course, which was using Conceptual Physics by Hewitt. The publisher came out with a new edition that had some chapters rearranged and that was only available shrinkwrapped with some junk so that students couldn't return it. We kept on using the old edition. However, this was a difficult solution to sustain in the long term. It required a lot of good will from the person at the bookstore who was in charge of purchasing. She had to go to a lot o

        • Old books can count against accreditation, even if it is a basic math textbook.

    • Re:Bad idea (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Wiarumas (919682) on Monday July 18, 2011 @12:11PM (#36801344)
      I doubt you reference ALL of them. Books relevant to your major/career should probably be bought and kept, but there were dozens of books (each costing $100+) that I have absolutely no use for: math, chemistry, english, history, stat, etc. None of these are relevant to my major/career and I'd opt for a more entertaining book on a rainy day.
      • by scubamage (727538)
        Agreed. Those silly computer science textbooks were a waste of money. Now those underwater basket weaving texts, I practically sleep with those things.
      • by vlm (69642)

        I doubt you reference ALL of them. Books relevant to your major/career should probably be bought and kept, but there were dozens of books (each costing $100+) that I have absolutely no use for: math, chemistry, english, history, stat, etc. None of these are relevant to my major/career and I'd opt for a more entertaining book on a rainy day.

        Disagree strongly in theory, agree strongly in practice.

        The old liberal arts idea was the "great books curriculum" where everyone had a common liberal arts canon of education. Everyone should have read at least Plato's Allegory of the Cave, and probably should own a copy if they're wealthy / cultured enough.

        For financial reasons those books have been replaced in the sciences with "C++ in 24 hours for noobs professorial financial kickback edition new for 2011 obsolete in 2012" which invalidates both the com

        • Again, you missed the GPs point. Not ALL textbooks are going to be useful. There's a lot of terrible texts out there that don't address topics that are useful for everyday use. They might be interesting to some as an intellectual exercise but textbooks should have some component of use or at least interest.
          • by vlm (69642)

            Again, you missed the GPs point. Not ALL textbooks are going to be useful. There's a lot of terrible texts out there that don't address topics that are useful for everyday use. They might be interesting to some as an intellectual exercise but textbooks should have some component of use or at least interest.

            If you went to school to get training, instead of an education, like a very expensive vo-tech school, then you're not going to like educational subjects. If you graduated but can't stand anything other than your major, you failed those classes, even if thru grade inflation "everyone got an A just for showing up" or whatever.

            Most of this countries restaurant meals have been at McDonalds. That doesn't mean the concept of a five star restaurant cannot exist, or that no restaurants make food better than dog f

    • Re:Bad idea (Score:4, Interesting)

      by CastrTroy (595695) on Monday July 18, 2011 @12:13PM (#36801374) Homepage
      The really depends on the course and the book. Throughout my university degree, I had to take courses from many different faculties. For my software engineering degree, I took biology, psychology, environmental science and many other courses that I had to buy textbooks for that I have no need for any more. Granted, I was able to sell the dead tree versions I bought, but I would have been nice to save even more money by renting certain textbooks for a single semester. Also, I had a lot of courses the recommended very bad textbooks, I would have much rather rented the required text and spend the remaining money on a good text that would have served my much better.
    • I routinely reference my old text books as well, but I have to disagree, this would've been preferred by me.

      As a student I didn't really have the cash for these books and always needed to sell them back. So assuming that the cost is significantly cheaper than buying the book it would've suited me to rent them. Then as I got an income (i.e. the job that would use them in) I not only purchased back old text books, having a lot more disposable cash, but I purchased the ones that I used and didn't have the u

      • The only downside may be that you can't mark up the book while studying.

        ...and that you cannot photocopy pages of it, and that it may be taken from you if there is a copyright dispute, and that if you need it one day longer than the rental period (e.g. a student who needs an extension on a final project) you will be forced to spend more money.

    • by Nursie (632944)

      Never really have.

      Why bother? The internet is there and has 99% of everything on it. Either the same text, or someone else's or (usually) something much more specific to the problem area you're looking at.

      Books.... meh.

    • Right to read (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Compaqt (1758360) on Monday July 18, 2011 @12:20PM (#36801450) Homepage

      http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/right-to-read.html [gnu.org]

      Richard Stallman's famous parable about the Right to Read, and what will happen if intellectual monopoly laws continue to grow.

      It's amazing how RMS, obstinate as he is, has been so prescient.

      The story's about what will happen when we're all converted to electronic books.

      • Stallman is only 1/2 right.

        Information tends toward freedom, while those that have information want to restrict it so they can monetize it. He is only speaking towards the latter half. IP laws are legitimate under very limited circumstances. However we've long since past any reasonableness in laws pertaining to the tyranny of the content holders.

        This is why I've suggested that we start making Open Source Textbooks for use.

        And after what I've seen being passed off as textbooks these days, full of Politically

    • Good for you, not all schools provide the option however, and very often actually upgrade the version of the book to obsolete it within a year, Telling students they absolutely must buy the 5th edition of the book to take the first class, then next year the follow up class has shifted the requirement to 6th edition. Or perhaps it's just a extra course completely out of the field that colleges like to put you through for the sake of keeping you well rounded, and you have no need to ever look back at again af
    • Good idea (Score:2, Insightful)

      by jellomizer (103300)

      You sound like a college professor, who has a hard time believing your area of study isn't interesting to all your students.
      For most college classes text books are an expensive and near useless expense, Especially for those Undergrad required courses that the student needs the book for the class then never uses it again... Some students never even use the book during class as they learn better by hearing the lectures vs. from reading a book.
      Many college books are introduction based books so after they take

      • by vlm (69642)

        And if you are going to Pay $150.00 for a text book where during the class you have read 3 chapters in it. (50 pages) on a topic that you are not interested in but needed to take the class to graduate.

        Hmm. $150 / 50 pages is $3 per page. Can you find a photocopier that charges less than $3 per page? Just sayin.

        The "one guy buys it and we all share it" does not scale for multiple readings. The "one guy buys it and we all photocopy it" did scale. You can even illegally sell photocopies of the relevant chapters for perhaps twice the cost of photocopying and everyone still comes out ahead (well, not the greedy publishers, or the kick back powered profs, but no loss there).

        Also I had a prof who collected

    • I have never heard of a school that had more then a handful of copies for courses with hundreds of students and always very limited time borrowing so unless you are the type to just go to the library and do all your homework in a afternoon then it is useless, and never around when you need them anyways.

      And text books are already a huge percentage of school fees, so no school out of the goodness of their hearts are not just going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each year keeping the latest edition

      • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photocopier [wikipedia.org]

        I have yet to find a library that does not have at least one of those machines.
        • First off that would be illegal and also quite expensive, cheaper then a new copy but possibly more expensive then renting or buying used and reselling afterwards.

          • It is neither illegal nor more expensive for the majority of undergraduate courses. Most courses only cover part of a textbook, and given the tremendous cost of some books (over $200 in some cases), you would need to find a photocopier that charged dollars per page before it became too expensive. Do you think that libraries keep photocopiers around because using those machines is a crime? It is fair use and was once a common thing for students to do.
            • Well as long as you would not be photocopying everything.
              Still not an optimum solution, but all it might would out pretty good for a lot of courses.

    • by SpeZek (970136)
      Shouldn't you be referencing your notes instead? I've sold every textbook I've ever bought, but I still have all the pertinent information in my own words in searchable document files on my computers.
      • It is frequently the case that some material is not covered in as much depth in a course as I really need, particularly more advanced or obscure material. For example, I took an undergrad theory of computation course and an undergrad algorithms course, but neither one went into much depth about the Cook-Levin theorem, other than mentioning what it is; I found myself consulting the textbook long after the courses were over when I needed to know more about the result. I also discovered that my graduate comp
    • Libraries are meant to provide a collection of knowledge, not a warehouse of books. Most libraries I've been to have been filled up on every floor with copies of *mostly unique* books. Where are they supposed to store hundreds of identical copies for each of hundreds of different classes? And books used as a reference are different than books used as instructional material: the former can be fifty years old, the latter is assumed to be mostly up to date, and the problem sets need to correspond to the lat

      • Libraries have photocopier machines for a reason. You can photocopy parts of textbooks that you need for a course, if the library has only one copy of a book that hundreds of students need. What Amazon is providing is a trap, designed to force students to spend their money on something they will be forbidden to look at after a few months, unless they are willing to pay more. On the whole, students will wind up spending more than they would have if they had just used their libraries' photocopiers, unless
        • You can photocopy parts of textbooks that you need for a course, if the library has only one copy of a book that hundreds of students need.

          My professors have told me that the maximum that's considered "fair use" is about 10%, and that's supposed to be as supplementary material, with the assumption being that there is some other officially assigned textbook for the course. Making photocopies so students can have a course text without buying it is obviously copyright infringement. If you want to promote that, then I don't see why you would suggest people spend hours and lots of money making photocopies when they can usually download the comple

    • I routinely find myself referencing textbooks from courses that I took years ago

      All of them? Because while the books I took related to my current job may be somewhat useful, I have absolutely no use for my intro to world literature book I bought. Doorstop maybe. And books related to my current job, it's quicker just to google that information than even finding the book itself.

    • I routinely find myself questioning if my *static* books are worth shit, these days.

      I went to college in the 80's. I can't find a lot that is either still relevant OR still ONLY found in those books. anything there is searchable and greppable online. that's a plus.

      dead tree versions collect dust (you can smell the dust when you enter a book-fan's house; you really can) and are a PITA when you have to pack and move. reducing your wallspace needed also makes room for other, more important things that you

      • dead tree versions collect dust (you can smell the dust when you enter a book-fan's house; you really can)

        I was going to make a snarky comment that if the dust is collected in the books then it's not in the air, so how can you smell it? But instead I'll just say that I quite like that smell.

        a PITA when you have to pack and move.

        I'll concede that.

    • I routinely find myself referencing textbooks from courses that I took years ago. If students cannot afford their books, university libraries should provide copies; students should not be at the mercy of Amazon or any other company.

      I agree with you that Universities SHOULDN'T be gouging their students on book fees, or rather should be providing alternatives to buying new... but how does that actually have anything to do with the service that Amazon claims to be providing? That's like saying Police are a bad idea because criminals just shouldn't be stealing. I mean, well DUH. But that's not happening. Universities aren't providing me copies of textbooks I need, and I am desperate to find ANY way to get these books cheaper than buying t

  • Because all of us remember everything from our classes and never again need a reference Complete silliness. Find more ways for them to keep the books, not more ways to take them away.
    • I have a hard time believing that anyone references more than 10% of their undergrad texts after graduation.
    • by alvinrod (889928)
      But we don't need to keep every single book. In college I had to take a Chemistry class that used a book so large that barely a third of the material was covered. Since I'm not a chemist and almost anything I really want to know about the subject can be found on Wikipedia or some other part of the web, there was no real reason to keep that book, especially when it cost well over a hundred dollars and I could get most back from reselling it. We should focus on making a lot of this knowledge freely availabl
  • Ideally classes should use open source materials (or is that open source source materials? open source^2 materials?) but if they're going to have the whole corrupt commercial textbook system then students ought to have the option to rent rather than buying anything they're not going to keep.

    • by couchslug (175151)

      "students ought to have the option to rent rather than buying anything they're not going to keep."

      They do. It's called downloading one copy, breaking the DRM, then spreading it far and wide.

      Coerce ME into the textbook racket? Fuck me? No, fuck YOU and have a nice day.

      We live in a world where our masters and the elites don't have to obey rules, so why should we obey them for their benefit?

  • by realmolo (574068) on Monday July 18, 2011 @12:18PM (#36801432)

    The textbook publishers are going to throw a FIT. So are the universities, probably, because most of them run for-profit bookstores.

    I expect that Amazon is going to be forced to kill this new service within a few months.

    The way textbooks are bought and sold and approved is one of the biggest scams in education. But it's hugely profitable. Amazon is going to have a battle on their hands.

    • Why would publishers have a fit? In the current model, they only get revenue for the first purchase. When a student resells a book, they don't get a cut (at least I'm not aware that text bookstores give them a cut). In the rental model they revenue each time the book is rented. The bookstores however are another story.
      • They change editions every year so that the life cycle of a text in the resale market (for which you can only sell back a current version) is amazingly short. They get a huge cut on the first sale, nothing on the second, and by the time the third would happen, there's a new edition. This could reduce the revenue from the first sale, but allow for less need to churn editions to keep the new book sales in the forefront. I'll be interested to see what happens.

        I might (I say might) go for this, especially if

    • by timeOday (582209)
      Exactly. It's just like the netflix price hike. The IP owners know what price point maximizes their revenues, and new technology doesn't fundamentally change that number. The idea that some third party (Amazon) could come in and drastically reduce textbook prices for students is pretty absurd, because book prices (and the size of the texbtook industry overall) were never based on the price of paper or shipping in the first place. One way or another, people will continue to be charged whatever the market
      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        Or universities refusing to play the game.
        I had a professors that did that. He used old versions and you had to pay a deposit to get the book, which was exactly what replacing that used copy would cost him. At the end of the class he gave back your money when you returned the book.

        I am not suggesting all universities move to a 0 profit from books scenario, but they could move to exclude any book above $X from the undergrad curriculum.

  • ... when I was in post-secondary, I resold (or attempted to resell, in some cases) well over half of my school textbooks. The only ones I kept were ones that I had a notion I might need to reference at some point in the future (which typically were scientific or computer science texts). If the technology had existed at the time for digital books to be rented for just a semester, and I could have rented the ones I was intending to resell at a cheaper price than buying them in the first place, I would hav

  • by Paul Fernhout (109597) on Monday July 18, 2011 @12:25PM (#36801508) Homepage

    ... an unfortunate business model for the 21st century and all our tools of abundance... http://www.artificialscarcity.com/ [artificialscarcity.com]

  • We're extending our Whispersync technology so that you get to keep and access all of your notes and highlighted content in the Amazon Cloud, available anytime, anywhere – even after a rental expires.

    Then immediately after.

    If you choose to rent again or buy at a later time, your notes will be there just as you left them, perfectly Whispersynced.

    Well, which is it? These seem to be mutually exclusive conditions. Either you can access your notes "anytime, anywhere" when your rental has expired or you can only access them after you have given them more money again.

  • My wife went to the University of Wisconsin Eau Clair and they rented text books there. I would assume that there are other universities that do the same as well. There was also the option to purchase the book if you wanted it.

    As many have noted I did keep some of my text books, but they were mostly the more advanced ones like the ones for my compilers, algorithms, computer simulation (offered through the physics department), AI, and robotics courses. Granted these were mostly theory books and had lots of

  • ...I fully expect the textbook moguls to sue the pants off Amazon.

  • by Hassman (320786) on Monday July 18, 2011 @12:53PM (#36801750) Journal

    This is not too different than what Questia [questia.com] has been doing for years. I'm sure Amazon's service is more polished and integrates better with their reader, but this concept isn't new by any stretch of the imagination.

    We're essentially talking about an online library for a premium.

  • I have copies of a number of textbooks from my degree - although some I've ditched. However, given how fast my particular subject - and many others - moves, I could be quite happy "renting" a textbook, where I always had access to the latest version. I don't need to buy / store every copy of a book, but to have access to the latest copy - in digital form - when I needed it, would be something I'd pay for.

    With virtually zero cost of reproduction, and an ongoing payment stream to authors (and their publis

    • by vlm (69642)

      With virtually zero cost of reproduction, and an ongoing payment stream to authors (and their publishers etc.), I wonder if this could be a viable model.

      I think you pretty much just described Oreilly's Safari service. Was a customer mid-last decade, liked it, but didn't use it enough to justify the cost. You'd think they'd prefer half the revenue at half the price from a very light user, to none of the revenue at full price, but ... Anyway, is Safari still around?

    • by tompaulco (629533)
      Do they really update the digital copy on the fly though? Somehow I find that unlikely. I suspect that the edition coincides with the print edition and does not change throughout the year.
      • Do they really update the digital copy on the fly though? Somehow I find that unlikely. I suspect that the edition coincides with the print edition and does not change throughout the year.

        I hadn't even thought about on-the-fly updating, to be honest - I was happy enough with a change with print edition, although, since that is largely predicated on the need for printed publication deadlines and the like, it would seem to be maintaining an old tradition for the sake of it.

        But, as long as it remained a

    • I agree, its artificial scarcity and thus considered harmful. As for subscriptions for the latest versions -- If keeping an archived copy of the current / past versions is not allowed you can count me out of subscription based & DRM enabled information access. If I paid to access version 1.5, then my local copy does not need to disappear when version 2.0 is available.

      I still have some of my old programming books even though C has changed a lot since then. Can you guess why I still have those old b

      • If I paid to access version 1.5, then my local copy does not need to disappear when version 2.0 is available.

        Same - and why need it? Having access to any version of a textbook - including previous and future editions... I enjoy reading old law texts, to see how the law was interpreted at the time.

        Heck, this is my dream - it's easily modified as and when people contribute good ideas :)

  • Rent.
    Digital.

    Choose one.

  • A lot of books that I have gotten recently have a digital copy on CD or DVD along with the print copy. Most of them have their own build in reader that works on PC platforms. I doubt if I will ever purchase a purely digital version of a book, but it is nice occasionally to be able to search for a term you are looking for. But it is not enough of a benefit to justify having only a digital version.
  • First day of the term, someone breaks the DRM on the rented copy and sells $5 copies to everyone in the class.
  • by bcrowell (177657) on Monday July 18, 2011 @02:20PM (#36802674) Homepage

    Kindle has poor support for equations, so this is a non-starter in science, technology, engineering, and math. Amazon's page prominently shows a chem book with a big, color diagram of a molecule. But what the heck are they going to do when that chem book needs to show an equation? My understanding is that support for equations is currently extremely crude; Kindle's .azw format is mobipocket format with a layer of DRM. Mobipocket is zipped html, with no support for mathml, and images placed at the center of the page. In html I can use superscripts and subscripts to fake a certain amount of inline math, but anything beyond very basic equations is going to have to be shown as a bitmapped image standing at the center of the page on a line by itself. That just isn't how books with mathematical content are normally formatted. What about detailed diagrams like graphs or blueprints? Are these really legible on a kindle?

    One thing that I can see that could be advantageous about this is that it could help to smooth out the shopping-for-classes period that happens at the beginning of every college term. The way this currently works is incredibly inefficient. Students stand in long lines at the bookstore, which typically pays for overtime and temporary student workers during that period. Students buy books for a class, drop the class, stand in line some more at the bookstore, and return the book. The bookstore either has to intentionally understock the book (meaning that some students won't be able to get a copy during the first couple of weeks) or else buy enough for every student, which means that after the shopping period is over, they'll have to return some to the publisher, paying for shipping. All of this creates lots of extra costs for the bookstore and/or publisher, which they pass on to students. It would be great if students could rent their books for the first couple of weeks, then buy once they're sure they're going to keep the course.

    Personally, I have no intention of buying an ebook reader until there is a big, established market of DRM-free titles. When you buy a DRM'd book, you have to anticipate that it won't be readable in 5 years.

  • Jeez, I hope I can get a discount for buying last-year's second-hand eTexts...

  • There are already a bunch of textbook rental companies out there, CourseSmart being the one I've used most often. The concept is good, but because they lock the content down with so much DRM, it severely limits the usability. I want a simple PDF file that I can easily search. I'd even be willing to install some sort of Acrobat DRM control (in my Windows VM, mind you), and I'D PAY MORE if I could actually get a regular PDF file that simply stopped working on a certain date. I don't have any desire to try
  • If this is properly executed, and the universities don't manage to sue it out of existence, this could quite possibly knock the bottom out of the old college textbook scam.

With all the fancy scientists in the world, why can't they just once build a nuclear balm?

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