Amazon Kindle Textbook Rentals Aim to Expand E-Reader Market

Amazon is now offering the ability to rent textbooks via the Kindle, yet another marker in the rapidly expanding e-reader market.

Kindle users now have the option to rent e-textbooks for a certain length of time, according to Amazon. The new feature will preserve that user's notes and highlights, even after the rental term for the actual e-text expires.

Amazon claims that Kindle textbook renters can save up to 80 percent of the list price of print textbooks, and can rent their e-text for anywhere from 30 to 360 days.

Textbook rental suggests Amazon is moving aggressively to expand the e-book market into areas beyond straightforward buying and selling. Earlier this year, the online retailer announced a Kindle Library Lending feature, due sometime before 2012, which will allow readers to borrow Kindle e-books from more than 11,000 libraries in the United States. As with textbook rental, customers checking out e-books from the library will have the ability to make and keep annotations written within the text.

In October 2010, Amazon introduced a feature that allows Kindle users to share e-books for 15 days, following in the steps of Barnes & Noble, which was first to introduce lending as part of its Nook e-reader platform. Consumer Reports recently rated Barnes & Noble's touch-powered, grayscale Nook higher than Amazon's Kindle, something that is sure to boost the competitive ire between the two companies.

Despite its dominant presence on the e-reader market, the Kindle faces competition not only from Barnes & Noble, but also a growing number of tablets running e-reader software. Current rumors suggest Amazon plans on releasing one or more Android-powered tablets sometime this autumn.

While many consumers see e-readers as convenient, some analysts feel the devices are strangling the publishing industry as a whole.

"The book-publishing industry has entered a period of long-term decline because of the rising sales of e-book readers," read an April research note from research firm IHS iSuppli, which predicted a decrease in book revenue at a compound annual rate of 3 percent through 2014-a reversal from the period between 2005 and 2010, when revenue rose.

"The [publishing] industry has entered a phase of disruption that will be as significant as the major changes impacting the music and movie business," predicted Steve Mather, an analyst with the firm, who went on to suggest that e-readers in turn would face substantial competition from tablets: "Dedicated e-reader shipments will fall short of some expectations, partly because of encroachment from media tablets, which many consumers will use to view e-books."

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