Textbook Rentals

Inside Higher Ed has an article titled “Rent, Read and Return,” which I found pretty interesting and I would recommend reading.  It focuses on a number of sites that allow students to rent books for a reduced price. However, unlike Netflix, there often are late fees and penalties if books are not returned on time. Chegg, one of the sites profiled, agrees to plant a tree for each book rented.  Author Stephanie Lee writes:
“The site has gone on to make $10 million in revenue last year and more than that amount this past January alone, according to company officials…In an arrangement that will go live in August, McGraw-Hill Companies will provide the site with new books and share an undisclosed portion of the revenue, according to Couch. Until now, Chegg has been purchasing books on its own and through affiliate programs.”
I found this joint venture between Chegg and the publisher McGraw-Hill to be very intriguing-and I’m quite curious to know what those revenue portions are.  What do you think? The author links to an earlier Higher Ed article titled “Wanted: Book for a Term.”  In the comments section, University of Oregon Librarian Andrew Bonamici links to a program they’ve undertaken with their campus bookstore to try and reduce the cost of textbooks for students.  One commenter, ML, offered this opinion: “The single thing that would make the biggest difference in the money that students I know have to spend on books would be a liberalization of copyright law.”  Based on my own experience, I’m tempted to agree.  I often had to buy coursepacks, which were expensive, loosely bound article reprints-the cost of those materials was certainly not due to fine paper or binding.   With so many different stakeholders with competing interests, it’s hard for me to imagine a single, successful, solution built on compromise.