Monday, July 25, 2011

Amazon presents a new e-textbook rental service - Does it make the Kindle any greener?

Three months after Amazon announced it would allow Kindle users to read e-books from more than 11,000 public libraries on the devices, it is going even further and launching Kindle Textbook Rental.

According to Amazon's press release, tens of thousands of textbooks are available for the 2011 school year from leading textbook publishers such as John Wiley & Sons, Elsevier and Taylor & Francis.

Interesting feature of the new program is its flexibility - Kindle Textbook Rental offers the ability to customize rental periods to any length between 30 and 360 days. Students can also easily extend any rental period in increments as small as one day or choose to purchase the book they are renting at any time.
The electronic textbooks can be downloaded to and read not just on Amazon's Kindle, but also on other devices such as PC, Mac and iPad using Kindle reading software.

The company claims that students can save up to 80% off textbook list prices by renting from the Kindle Store. This element will be very effective in getting more students to use the program. For example, Ryan Judy of Ohio University told that he "would, and probably will, use Kindle's service because I have an iPad and you can just download the Kindle textbooks on there, which makes it really convenient. It's also cheaper. I normally try find the cheapest way to get my books."

It is very interesting development in Amazon's services, but only a natural one as we see a growing interest in digital books among students. My question is whether this new service also helps in making the Kindle greener?

It's obvious that renting textbooks is more eco-friendly than buying new ones because this way you maximize the usage of already printed book. Just like with books, after reading a number textbooks on an e-reader, this practice is becoming greener than the alternative - buying paper textbooks. As the length of textbooks is usually higher tend to be longer (500-600 pages in many cases, if not longer), their footprint is larger than the one of 'regular' books and hence the breakeven point of e-textbooks is smaller than the one of e-books.

So we can definitely see that it would be relatively easy to establish e-textbooks rentals as a greener option with a smaller footprint, but does it make Amazon or the Kindle any greener? It's a difficult question because there is no difference in terms of e-reading if you buy an electronic textbook or rent it. Either way, you're using one electronically instead of its paper version. Nevertheless, the fact that renting might be cheaper for students makes etextbook rental more attractive and increases the chances students will move to textbook e-reading.

This service won't change the carbon footprint of the Kindle - it doesn't change anything in the device's production, transportation, usage or recycling. Also, there's actually a good chance many students will use a Kindle reading app to read it on their iPad or even just read it on their PC.

As you can see it's complicated to estimate the impact of the new service, but there are two things we can say for certain: 1. Amazon's new service might lower eventually the breakeven points of e-readers and tablets as the usage of textbooks electronically will be increased due to the new rental service. 2. Amazon's new service will help eventually in making textbook reading more sustainable. Hopefully it will also help students to get better grades!

To read more on how green is your (and my) Kindle, visit our website at

More resources on the ebooks vs. paper books environmental debate can be found on our website at

Raz @ Eco-Libris

Eco-Libris: Plant one tree for every book you read!