BookRenter.com, which generally works the same way, sends students e-mail or text message alerts when due dates are approaching. It also gives students the option to buy a book at the end of the rental period. Any rental prices already paid are deducted from the purchase price.
If a student decides to drop a class, refunds can be issued within 30 days at Chegg.com and within 10 days at BookRenter.com.
Select universities also have their own book rentals, but the programs aren't common because of the costs in maintaining them.
Before weighing the pros and cons of electronic textbooks, a little background.
E-textbooks can generally be accessed online or downloaded onto laptops, so there's no need to buy a special reader. For copyright protection, companies usually require you to download a free application if you want to read the books on your computer without using an Internet connection.
One popular place to get e-textbooks is CourseSmart.com, which works with 12 of the largest higher-education publishers to offer about 7,000 titles. The company says its e-textbooks on average cost about half the price of new print copies.
The electronic versions at CourseSmart have the same layout as their print counterparts, so there's no confusion if a professor assigns certain pages to be read, said Frank Lyman, a CourseSmart spokesman.
Students pick whether to get the books online or off-line; there is no discount for buying both.
One perk of CourseSmart is that texts are searchable by key words or phrases. Students can also copy and paste up to one page to create notes and print up to 10 pages at a time. Another function lets students highlight passages electronically as they would with print textbooks.
Publisher Cengage Learning also makes its titles available electronically at iChapters.com for half the price of print editions.
One catch with CourseSmart and iChapters is that students only have access for a certain time, usually around a semester or however long the book is intended to be used. So, students wouldn't be able to refer back to certain passages later on in their schooling.
Another option when going electronic is Amazon.com's Kindle DX or the Sony Reader.
The Kindle DX, which has a larger screen than the standard Kindle, costs $489. It has a 9.7-inch screen and weighs a little more than a pound, lighter than most laptop computers. The Sony Reader costs $280 and has a 6-inch screen.