August 7, 2012, 10:36 AM

Amazon’s paper textbooks rentals are coming to college this year

The retailer starts to loan textbooks to U.S. students by the semester.

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In time for the school year, Amazon.com Inc. has begun a program to rent print editions of textbooks to U.S. college students by the semester. On returning the books, students can recoup up to 70% of the regular cost, the retailer says.

Today, a standard biology textbook selling new for $183.39 and used for $102.01 showed a rental fee of $47.25 to keep the book until Dec. 15 on Amazon.com. At any point mid-semester, students can choose to buy a rental textbook, extend the rental by 15 days or extend it by another semester; each option brings an additional fee.  Students who end up buying a book may still be able to resell it to the retailer in its buy-back program. That would bring a student selling back the biology book $74.97 in Amazon gift card credits.

All rentals are managed from a customer’s personal account in a library called “Your Textbook Rentals.” Amazon says it will send reminder e-mails ahead of return due dates.

As in any college textbook store, Amazon requires a minimal quality standard for returned books. That includes no water damage, broken spines or excessively marked up text. The rest of Amazon’s usual policies, including free returns within 30 days of purchase and the ability to add a gift card or other promotional values at checkout, still apply in the textbook rental program. If a returned textbook is deemed too damaged to rent again, the renter will be charged the full price of the textbook less what they’ve already paid in rental fees and extensions.

Each rental includes a prepaid, printable return shipping label so students can return their books for free by UPS or the U.S. Postal Service. Amazon’s normal free shipping on orders over $25 and free two-day shipping for Amazon Prime members still apply; Amazon Student members can also receive free shipping both ways.

Amazon Student is a free membership program for students in which they receive exclusive deals and discounts on certain school-related products; after an initial six months of free two-day shipping Amazon Student members can pay $39 annually to continue receiving Prime benefits for up to four years. Members of Amazon Prime pay $79 annually to receive the shipping deal on all items as well as other perks like access to free streaming videos through the Amazon Instant Video service.

Amazon also offers an e-textbook rental through its Kindle tablet or any device with a Kindle reading app installed. In that program students can rent books for a minimum length of 30 days up to 360 days and pay for extensions by as little as a day at a time, as many times as needed. The retailer lists a $184.99 hardcover book as $109.20 in e-edition and $40.54 to rent through Kindle.

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