Why Can’t eBooks Be Rented Like Textbooks and Movies?


eTextbook Rentals

Why is it that ebooks get treated differently than other forms of digital media?

You can rent things like movies and e-textbooks online, and there are even services that offer audiobook rentals, so why isn’t there any option to rent ebooks instead of buying them?

For ebooks that only cost a few bucks, renting doesn’t make much sense, but NYT best sellers often sell for $9.99 – $14.99.

Similar-priced movies are typically available to rent in the $2.99 – $4.99 range.

So why not offer ebook rentals in the same price range that expire in 2-4 weeks?

Obviously publishers are the reason ebook rentals don’t exist, but what’s the big deal anyway?

If the model works for other forms of digital media then why not ebooks?

There’s also the fact that ebooks cannot be resold after being purchased so that inherently makes them less valuable because you can’t get rid of them after reading. You can’t even sell ebooks that you hate and never want to read again.

In fact the majority of ebooks that I’ve acquired over the years I have no interest in ever reading more than once (in many cases less than once because I’m a really picky reader and don’t like wasting time on boring, poorly-written books).

The option to rent ebooks would come with the benefit of being able to try new books and authors without committing to a $15 price tag. If you find out that you really like the book then you can buy it, if not you’re only out a few bucks.

There are ebook subscription services like Kindle Unlimited that allow unlimited access to a library of books for a monthly fee, and that’s kind of similar to renting because you don’t actually own any of the books and only have access to them as long as you’re a paying member, but the problem is most of the big name publishers don’t allow their books to be offered in these programs.

Given the history of the publishing industry, things are unlikely to change anytime soon, so the option to rent expensive ebooks is probably never going to happen, but it would be a nice option to have sometimes. That or more reasonable prices…

11 Responses to “Why Can’t eBooks Be Rented Like Textbooks and Movies?”

  1. Why not just download them for free from the library?

    • That’s always my first choice, but when a new release has several months of hold time a rental option would be nice…

  2. Simple reason… publishers would lose $$&

  3. There are no e-book ‘rental’ places because you can borrow them from the public library at no cost! Or from the Open Library (openlibrary.org) also for free.

    Practically every community has a li-brar-y! Google it today!

    A Librarian

  4. that hold time at the library varies with the library. my county library gets most new releases to me within two or three months of release, but the New York Public Library takes much longer. explore any options for getting a library card from several libraries. I have free cards at three libraries in my state and one out of state.
    library borrowing is free but a bit of a pain to do. renting from Amazon would be much simpler, and I might do it if the rental cost were reasonable. I think they and the publisher would make money by renting. they certainly do renting movies.

  5. A few publishers have been experimenting with this on Google Play in recent months. HarperCollins had a 99cent rental promotion on many of their YA titles in December, and Harlequin had a similar thing going in January. Wiley had one on their Dummies books in October. Their promo pages all specified that you had 24 hours access to the title after payment, but it was never clear to me whether you could purchase extensions or your only option was to buy after time was up. Also I’m not sure whether your rental fee would be deducted from the purchase cost should you decide to buy.

  6. Yes that is what Kindle Unlimited is, to me, a rental service. I love it and read a TON of books that way. Also have several library subscriptions. Very rarely do I ever buy an ebook. If it’s not in KU or my libraries, I don’t need it.

  7. There’s always Usenet for Big 5 publishers who refuse to participate in a formal program. SWIM considers it just deserts for an industry clearly out of touch with modernity.

    Fact is, though, that there’s plenty to read on KU and Scribd still offers quality rental content.

    None of it is Netflix but, odds are, movie studios will outlive Big 5 publishers. They joined music labels and took a hit with absurd legal battles but they’ve come to accept reality. Big Publishing will either do so as well or die.They are, after all, at the mercy of authors who are continuing to defect to not only self-publishing but alternatives like APub. It won’t be long before every author sees the value in going someplace not named a Big 5 house.

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