I don’t know how long this has been a thing, but just today I discovered a “Rent Book” option on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. A passable idea in theory, I suppose, but the cost is just a couple dollars less than buying the book brand new, and you only get to keep it for a couple months. Unlike the movie rental industry, where you are merely paying a considerably smaller percentage of the overall price, I don’t see how this model can sustain itself. But then, what do I know?
For me, a much better option is still the library, where you can get any book you want, essentially for free, often for up to nine weeks or more (never mind, for the moment, taxes) (taxes being hard to quantify, or at least to determine what fraction goes to libraries specifically) (plus, you’re still paying those taxes, regardless of whether you are also renting books on the side or not) (though I wonder, again, how long libraries can last in this increasingly online everything/instant gratification environment we all seem hell bent on creating for ourselves (or, it sometimes seems, we are passively allowing to be created for us)).
And then, too, there is the issue of late fees (as I believe I’ve mentioned, 30 cents per day per item in these parts. Which can add up in a hurry. Though it would still take an awfully long time to add up to the $25+ they are charging for a book rental).
Another aspect that sort of bothers me is the idea that the book is only new prior to that first renting. Once it’s returned, it will no longer be in that same pristine condition, but will still, no doubt, be turned around and rented for that same 90% of brand new cost. In this sense, it would seem to be less like the movie rental industry, and more like the truck rental industry. After the first 1.1 rentings, the entire cost of the brand new book has been recouped, and anything beyond that is pure profit. And knowing Amazon/Barnes & Noble, once the interest in renting a particular book wanes, they will probably then sell it for a still decent chunk of change on the expansive “used book” market, racking up a tidy overall profit for themselves. I know it’s just business, but sometimes Amazon and Barnes & Noble just seem like greedy bastards to me. Not that it’s stopped me from patronizing them, such is my need for books, and my love/hate relationship with those who provide them too me.
Business-wise, it’s pretty smart, if they can get it to work. To me, it seems a pretty transparent attempt to monopolize the entire book industry, on every level (which, frankly, with Amazon dominating the internet, and Barnes & Noble locking down what’s left of brick and mortar, they have pretty much done already). Is there anything wrong with that?
On the other hand, how often do we pay full price for a book, right when it comes out, to then never read it again? If renting that same book gives us plenty of time to accomplish the same single read, at a slightly reduced cost, with the added bonus of not taking up space on our bookshelves afterwards (for those who think of actual physical books that way), where is the harm?
Also, we are still free to pay the couple extra dollars, purchase the book, and then sell it ourselves online or to a used bookstore (for as long as any of those are still around). You can come out ahead, assuming making your money back is one of your top priorities in book purchase decisions.
Also, there is the convenience factor. Renting a book allows you that instant-gratification we all crave. No waiting lists. No availability concerns (but whatever happened to sweet anticipation?).
I think the idea bothers me more in less tangible ways. If we are only renting books, we can’t then lend them to friends. Re-read them (without paying the exorbitant rental fee again). Refer back to favorite marked passages (same). Enjoy seeing them on our shelves (I know people have mixed feelings about this component). Donate them to libraries or other worthy institutions. For a long time, Goodreads had the option, which I have discussed here before, of sharing books with other people. You would list books you owned and were willing to share. Any interested reader could select the book, and for just the cost of shipping, have the book to do with as they pleased. It was like a worldwide book share. I always felt like I was sending the book to some book-loving pen pal stranger. I would often include a note like “I loved this book. Hope you enjoy!” With no (public) explanation, Goodreads abandoned the program. To be acquired by Amazon just a few months later. Coincidence?
Amazon, and perhaps even more so Barnes & Noble, are in the strange position of competing with themselves on this front. And that’s probably why the book rentals are priced so high. They would probably still prefer to just sell a large quantity of hardcover books at full price and acquire more if they need them. Though, as I’ve discussed above, there is the possibility of generating quite a profit upon renting, and particularly re-renting, books, there is also what is probably the considerable overhead of maintaining such a system, not to mention the obvious risk of people not returning and/or destroying and/or losing the rented books. The nerdy lawyer in me also wonders about copyright infringement issues and how those were skirted (I’m sure a quick review of movie rental case law would probably clear this up in a proverbial jiffy. Unfortunately, it is sometimes hard to turn this part of my brain off. Even on a three-day weekend).
Like so many ideas, what I probably most wish is that I would have come up with this one first.
What does anyone else think? Has anyone rented a book yet? How was your experience?