Back to School with Rentable Textbooks

Back in July, while many students were starting to think about packing for college, announced the launch of Kindle textbook rentals. While e-textbooks are not new – they have been available on platforms for readers such as the Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook for some time – being able to rent them is.

According to Amazon, students will be able to save up to 80% off textbook list prices by renting from the Kindle Store. With the yearly cost of college textbooks ranging from $750 to $1500 or more, this represents substantial savings.

Rentals are available from Amazon's used and new textbook store.1 If a particular textbook comes with a rental option, it is noted in the product description. Rentals are for a minimum of 30 days and for up to 360 days. Students can also extend a rental period or purchase the book they are renting at any time. With the download of the free Kindle Reading Apps for PC, Mac, iPad, iPod touch, iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, and Android-based platforms, the textbooks can be read across a wide variety of devices – no Kindles required.

In addition, Amazon is offering students the option of saving their notes and highlighted content in the Amazon Cloud system. This information will be available even after a rental expires, so if a student chooses to buy or rent again, he or she will have the same notes synched to the text.

Tens of thousands of textbooks are available for the 2011 school year from textbook publishers such as John Wiley & Sons, Elsevier, and Taylor & Francis. However, this still does not represent the full range of textbooks that are often required for college courses, according to at least a couple of university professors interviewed by Information Display. This is just one reason why digital textbooks, even rental ones, are not poised to take over completely from the paper-textbook market.

Other reasons include the ongoing question as to the serviceability of a digital reading and research experience compared to a physical one. According to a May 2011 study from The University of Washington,2 students working with digital textbooks found it less intuitive to skim assignments before reading, as well as check references and illustrations. And, according to the article, "digital text also disrupted a technique called cognitive mapping, in which readers used physical cues such as the location on the page and the position in the book to go back and find a section of text or even to help retain and recall the information they had read."

Regardless of the drawbacks, the pluses of digital e-books, especially rentable ones, include their ability to lighten physical and financial loads for both students and their parents this coming semester.


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A Flexible and Transparent Future

At Display Week 2011, a revolving roll of what appeared to be clear plastic – but was in fact flexible glass – caught a lot of attention on the exhibit floor. The simulated roll-to-roll process in Corning's booth suggested how the material might be employed in the future for low-cost manufacturing of large-area electronics. The glass, currently being made at a thickness of 50 μm, provides the same quality of touch as sheet glass, according to Corning, but with the added benefit of higher throughput and lower cost manufacturing through the roll-to-roll process.

For the time being, the technology is actually still "in the future," although it is closer to production than when seen at Display Week 2010 in Seattle. "The ability to make glass thin enough to be flexible has been around for a while," says Corning representative Sarah Grossman. "The difference over the past couple of years is that now we are able to develop a product package that makes the glass reliable enough to use in roll-to-roll processing and an ecosystem that helps us enable customers to adopt our glass. That is what we demonstrated with our spooled demo at the latest SID conference in June."

A firm release date has not yet been set for the glass, but the company is currently aiming for a 2012–2013 time frame, according to Grossman. Samples are now available to interested companies.

Additional benefits of glass, especially as compared to plastic, include clarity and the ability to withstand heat, which becomes increasingly important during the manufacture of touch sensors. Corning researchers are currently at work on flexible glass substrates for high-resolution displays for e-book readers, smart phones, and other devices. According to the company, the material's "pristine" surface quality will also enable backplanes for a variety of applications including photovoltaics, OLED lighting, large-area sensors, and more.