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Amazon lets students rent Kindle textbooks

Online retailer now lets students rent textbooks for the Kindle, and you can keep your highlighting after your rentals expire.

Kindle textbooks
Possessing e-textbooks from Amazon can now be cheaper and briefer.
Screenshot by Eric Smalley/CNET

Amazon today unveiled a textbook rental service for the company's Kindle e-reader. Students can rent e-textbooks for as few as 30 days and extend rental periods in one-day increments.

A key feature is you can keep annotations and highlighting after the rental period ends. The notes are stored in the Amazon cloud and can be automatically synced if you re-rent a textbook. The amount of storable highlighting allowed is determined by the individual publishers, according to an Amazon spokesperson.

Of course, the devil is in the details. John Wiley & Sons isn't saying how much highlighting they allow you to store. "We do support a student's need to retain a meaningful portion of their highlighted content after their rental has expired," said a company spokesperson.

Other participating publishers include Elsevier, Taylor & Francis and Oxford University Press.

Related links
•Amazon's Nook Color killer shipping soon?
•Ad-supported Kindle 3G drops to $139

E-readers like Kindle provide good airplane and beach reading experiences, but they need some improvement to satisfactorily handle textbook reading, at least according to one university study.

Amazon's Kindle textbook rental option
You can set firm deadlines for your schoolwork: finish before your rented textbooks evaporate. Screenshot by Eric Smalley/CNET

University of Washington researchers found that students had a harder time switching among looking over illustrations, skimming references and reading the full text using e-readers compared with reading printed textbooks. E-readers also disrupted cognitive mapping, the process students use to find and recall information by remembering where it is in the book and where it's positioned on the page.

So this means no more scoring pocket money at the end of the semester by selling the textbooks Mom and Dad paid for--that is, assuming e-textbooks catch on.

I'm not sure about the wisdom of giving students a financial incentive to cram. If this had been available when I was in school, the choice between having a textbook for the whole semester and having extra beer money could have had ugly consequences.

If I were Amazon, I'd let students share their annotations and highlighting. That's one thing you can't do with printed textbooks.

You can read rented textbooks on the Kindle e-reader and Kindle apps on PC, Mac, iPad, iPod touch, iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Phone and Android platforms.