Amazon starts renting out printed textbooks

Share Inc. has launched a new textbook rental program, this time with old-fashioned print books.

The program sends the print copies to students, for a fee, with the stipulation that they be returned in reasonably good condition within 130 days unless other arrangements are made.

The e-commerce giant has a digital textbook rental service that began last year.

Amazon said the fees it’s charging to rent the print books represent savings of up to 70% compared with retail purchase prices. The digital rental prices are often a bit lower. 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.

Amazon charges shipping fees to send out the books, but renters can ship them back at no extra cost. Customers can buy the textbooks they are renting at any point during the rental period.

If at the end of the rental, a student needs a bit more time with a book, a 15-day extension is available for a fee. If a textbook isn’t returned by the due date, the extension period and fee are automatically added. And if the book still has not been returned by the end of that period, Amazon charges the full purchase price.

“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.

On its website, the company said renters can write in the textbooks “a minimal amount.” But if a book is returned with “excessive writing or highlighting,” the student can be charged the full price of the book, minus rental fees already paid, and the book is shipped back to the customer to keep. Other signs of unacceptable use: water damage, broken binding, torn or taped cover, fire damage and strong odor, including from smoking.

Amazon is not the first to offer such a service: Companies such as Chegg Inc. also rent out textbooks.