[Updated below with Amazon news release.]

Amazon.com is moving into the business of physical textbook rentals, expanding its footprint by offering a cheaper alternative to students, according to a support page on the company’s site.

The service will let students keep books for a semester, with free shipping for receiving and sending them back, and an option to buy the books during the rental term. Amazon plans to promote the textbook rentals in conjunction with its Amazon Student membership program, the support page indicates.

Physical textbook rentals had been the last area of the textbook market where Amazon didn’t have a presence, notes Nate Hoffelder of the Digital Reader blog, posting on the news earlier today. The company already offers new and used textbooks for sale, along with buyback options. Amazon also offers digital textbooks for sale and rent.

Amazon hasn’t made a formal announcement of the new textbook rental program. One book with a rental option was spotted by the site EcommerceBytes, but the button appears to have since been removed, suggesting that Amazon was doing some testing. The macroeconomics text was available for rent for $47.75, compared with a price of $170.46 for an outright purchase, according to the site. An existing rental site, Chegg.com, offers the same book for rent for $57.99.

We’ve asked Amazon for more details on the textbook rental program and plans for rollout.

Amazon earlier this year settled a dispute with the National Association of College Stores over the company’s textbook marketing tactics.

Update, 2:15 p.m.: Amazon just confirmed the news in a press release. Here’s an excerpt.

Amazon Launches Textbook Rental

Print textbook rental program can help students save up to 70%

Amazon.com, Inc. today announced the launch of Amazon Textbook Rental. Now college students can choose from thousands of textbooks to rent for the semester and save up to 70%. To rent a textbook, simply search Amazon.com for the book, select “Rent Now,” choose shipping and payment options, and check out. All textbook rentals are Fulfilled by Amazon and are eligible for Free Super Saver Shipping on orders over $25, and Prime Free Two-Day Shipping. At the end of the rental period, returns are free and simple with a prepaid, printable label.

“College is expensive, and students are always looking for ways to save money on textbooks, which is why we’ve long offered great prices on both new and used textbooks,” said Ripley MacDonald, Director of Textbooks at Amazon.com. “With Textbook Rental, Amazon gives students yet another great option for saving money – it’s now easier than ever for students to get the books they need, in the format they want, at affordable prices. So no matter if a student wants to buy or rent their textbooks, Amazon can be their one-stop shop.”

Textbook rentals and millions of other items including books, backpacks, electronics, video games, the latest fashion in clothing and shoes, and other college essentials are eligible for Free Two-Day Shipping with an Amazon Prime membership. By signing up for Amazon Student, a free membership program exclusively for college students, students can get six months of Free Two-Day Shipping on millions of items, plus exclusive offers, and then up to four years of Amazon Prime at 50% off. Students can learn more by visiting www.amazon.com/joinstudent.

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  • CollegeBookRenter

    I have always used http://www.collegebookrenter.com for my textbooks. I have rented and bought from them and seem to get good service every time. Will have to look into Amazon and see how they compare.

  • kimsoon22

    University students everywhere have felt the horrible sting of the bookstore markup on textbooks. They could be egregious, but there are methods around it, say renting one’s textbooks. Amazon used to only do that for the Kindle, but currently Amazon textbook rental reaches hardcopies.

  • Jerry

    I rented a textbook from amazon and returned it in almost new condition. Then I received an email stating that the binding was damaged and I would be charged full retail price. I don’t know if the book was actually damaged in shipping or I am being scammed. Either way, beware Amazon Rentals and go with one of the more established companies

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