Amazon unveiled a Kindle Textbook Rental, giving students the ability to rent instead of buy digital textbooks. Amazon says that, "tens of thousands" of titles from some of the major textbook publishers - including John WIley & Sons, Wlsevier, and Taylor & Francis - will be available for this school year.

It's not just the selection that the company is touting, of course, it's the savings: "now students can save up to 80% off its textbook list prices by renting from the Kindle Store." Amazon's boasted savings for students has put the company at odds with brick-and-mortar college bookstores, and the National Association of College Stores has accused the online retailer of misleading students about the potential for savings when buying textbooks from Amazon.

But renting textbooks has becoming a popular alternative to buying recently, with companies like Chegg offering students the ability to rent books just for the duration of a semester. Amazon's new program is similar, but with the added bonus of being digital rather than physical, letting students read the e-books on Kindles and on Kindle apps.

Buying Used Textbooks, Still Cheaper Than Renting

The Kindle Textbook Rental program also lets students configure the length of the rental, from 30 days to 360 days. Of course, the longer you rent, the more expensive it becomes. A $100 Kindle purchase can be rented for $40 for a month, but that quickly increases the longer you keep the book - and most students will keep it for at least a semester. It's still cheaper to buy used textbooks in most cases, and when you buy a physical book, of course, you can keep the book or sell it back as you deem fit.

To make this option more appealing, Amazon has added a new feature to the Kindle Textbook Rental program, the ability for students to keep any of the notes they make in the textbooks they've rented. Typically, when you borrow an e-book, any marks you make in the text disappear when you return them. But Amazon says you'll be able to keep your highlights and notes "in the Amazon Cloud," and should you buy or rent the book again, the notes will be "just where you left them."

College Students Lukewarm about Kindles

The Kindle itself hasn't gained much traction among college students, and several studies have found that students say that they don't find e-readers to be very useful for their note-taking and studying needs. It's worth noting that on Amazon's page announcing the new program that an actual Kindle isn't depicted. Instead, there's an e-book on a laptop and displayed on a large monitor. You needn't use a Kindle, the message seems to suggest, just a Kindle app.

Textbooks are big business, and college students spend billions of dollars a year on them. With new and used titles for sale in print, Amazon has already wooed a number of students to buy from it, rather than from their local college bookstores. But it remains to be seen if the price - and of course the availability - of digital textbook rentals are something students are interested in. For the time being, it seems, used textbooks still look like the better deal, despite all the arguments that digital books are easier to carry around campus.