Amazon says its new Kindle Textbook Rental service will save students as much as 80 percent off the retail prices of textbooks. With Amazon's new service, students will be able to rent available textbooks as ebooks from the Kindle Store instead of purchasing them outright at much higher prices.

High textbook costs have long been a problem for students at schools where they have to purchase them, including private schools and colleges and universities.

Amazon's Kindle Textbook Rental will function like a library, in that students will pay only for the privilege of borrowing their books. Traditionally, students have had to buy textbooks at retail prices, selling them back later at deeply-discounted prices. Even used textbooks are often sold at prices close to retail, making the exchange a costly proposition for students and their families.

Amazon says tens of thousands of textbooks are available for the 2011 school year from its Kindle Store, from textbook publishers including Wiley, Elsevier, and Talyor & Francis.

Students can chose the length of time they wish to rent the books, from periods offered of between 30 and 360 days, and they will pay only for the time they need the book.

Students will be allowed to continue to access any electronic notes or highlights they made after the rental period ends by visiting Amazon's Web site.

The drawback to the Kindle Textbook Rental program may only be that a Kindle or other e-reading device is needed, so students not having one must get one, and that not all textbooks will be available, especially at first. The advantage, however, is significant savings for students who have a Kindle or who can get one, and can find books they need in the program.

If a new textbook costs $250, for example, students can now rent it through the Kindle Textbook program for $30 for 30 days.

Kindle Textbook Rental books can be read on Kindles, as well as on other devices that run the Kindle app, including Macs, iPads, iPhones and others.