I feel like renting digital copies are harder; its difficult to read a massive text online, as opposed to a hardcopy book. But online rental books are definitely on the rise. As a recently graduated student, I can definitely see the appeal as to why students would choose to rent textbooks rather than buying them. Textbooks are so expensive nowadays, and you only really use them once your entire academic life. And while you can keep them to show off your academic prowess, oftentimes they take up a lot of bulky space in your closet. A lot of my friends have been turning to online sites (such as these) to rent books, and they save both time and space in the long run.
As an administrator for a community college online learning program I really like the idea of digital text book rentals. We're a small school and a lot of our students are far enough away that the campus book store is not easily accessible. This sometimes causes problems with students at the beginning of the semester saying they were unable to get their book on time and then they're playing catch up and it can be frustrating for both them, their instructor and myself. Although I do believe it is the students responsibility to make sure they have their materials on time being able to quickly download books at the beginning of the semester would be incredibly helpful in avoiding these situations and making all of our lives a little easier. I can definitely see this as something our students would get into especially with the rise in use of iPads, Kindles, and the like.
I would have loved online textbooks as a student! I don't know if the trend will stick, but I sure hope it does! In our elementary school, we just started using the online science textbook through Discovery Education this past year. As a teacher, I found found it much more relevant and engaging for my students. I have never really taught from a textbook, other than choosing passages here and there. I typically create all my own resources or adapt things that I find online. I like the techbook because there is more there for teachers like me who do not adhere strictly to the flow of the book. The techbook allows for flexibility, but could still be used as a normal textbook for teachers who prefer that. It also provides options that a textbook simply can't, such as virtual experiments, videos, text to speech, customized assessments, an interactive glossary, and more while still providing the readings and images that a traditional textbook would include. My students and parents love them too since students don't have to haul home a heavy textbook. I hope that we can go 100% online with all our textbooks, and I hope the trend keeps up!