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Summary:

According to a bizarre condition in Amazon’s textbook rental terms and agreements, if a student rents books through Amazon’s Warehouse Deals, she could be charged the entire buyout price if she takes the books to another state.

Textbooks
photo: Corbis

Here’s a random bit of news textbook-toting students might want to know: if you rent textbooks through Amazon’s Warehouse Deals, you’d better be careful about taking your books across state lines.

As first pointed out by Inside Higher Ed, the fine print in Amazon’s Textbook Rental Terms and Conditions says that, if students rent through Warehouse Deals (an Amazon site for deals on returned, used or refurbished products), students may not move a book out of the state to which it was first shipped unless they actually purchase the book first.

“If we determine that at any time during the rental period you have moved a textbook rented from Warehouse Deals, Inc. out of the state to which it was originally shipped, we may in our sole discretion charge you the buyout price of the textbook and transfer title to the textbook to you, retroactive to the date you moved the textbook out of that state. In such case, the textbook will be yours to keep,” the company says.

Considering the number of students who live in a different state from their school, this seems like a pretty easy rule to break.  But even though you’d think it would be difficult to enforce – how would Amazon know if you brought a book home to study over break or brought it to school after shipping it to your home? – Inside Higher Ed points out that if you a student has a book shipped to her home and then mails it back from a school in a different state, Amazon would have a clear reason to bill her for the entire book.

It may sound like a silly rule, but it apparently all comes back to Amazon’s efforts to avoid collecting state sales tax (which as my colleague Laura Owen has covered before, the company is quite good at). If Amazon owns rented books across state lines, the state could argue that it has a business presence large enough to warrant collecting taxes.

Thankfully, the “books with borders” rule (as Inside Higher Ed calls it) only applies to books rented through Warehouse Deals, not other Amazon textbook rental services.

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  1. Sigh … “Amazon’s efforts to avoid paying state sales tax”….

    really?

    Quick question, when you go and buy from a store. You might notice that there is a line that says “Sales tax” on the receipt. Who is paying the sales tax: the store or you?

    Stores do NOT pay sales tax they COLLECT sales tax from the end purchaser and every month they forward the money to the government.

    For a news organization, you aren’t doing a very good job on getting this basic fact right.

    1. Ki Mae Heussner Pat Friday, August 16, 2013

      Thanks for the comment, Pat. You’re right. I’ve corrected the error.

  2. Pat is wrong on this. In some states the retailer is paying the taxes on rentals not the consumer. Some states and counties apply use taxes to rentals that are not applicable to sales. Illinois is such a case where use taxes are applied to rental company and not consumer. In this case the retailer is paying the tax and its not a pass through. Amazon is avoiding paying taxes, collecting taxes, and remitting them. Also income taxes.

    Beyond that Amazon is avoiding all of this to retain as much as a 10% price advantage over its competitors. Consumers in most states still owe the taxes even when the retailer doesn’t collect, but almost zero folks pay that to the state.

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