Amazon is making it easier for students to dump their heavy, book-laden schoolbags in favor of a tablet or eReader with the launch of an electronic textbook rental service called Kindle Textbook Rental.

Tens of thousands of electronic textbooks have been added to the online retailer's catalogue for the 2011 school year. Students are able to rent the textbooks for any period of time ranging from 30 days to 360 days.

"Students tell us that they enjoy the low prices we offer on new and used print textbooks. Now we're excited to offer students an option to rent Kindle textbooks and only pay for the time they need - with savings up to 80% off the print list price on a 30-day rental," said Dave Limp, vice president, Amazon Kindle.

The digital textbooks will be available on Amazon’s Kindle reading apps, meaning that students don’t necessarily need to own a Kindle eReader to rent, read and make annotations on the eTextbooks. The Kindle textbooks can be accessed via an iPad, iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, PC, Mac or an Android-based device with one of Amazon’s free Kindle Reading Apps.

"We've done a little something extra we think students will enjoy," continued Limp. "Normally, when you sell your print textbook at the end of the semester you lose all the margin notes and highlights you made as you were studying. We're extending our Whispersync technology so that you get to keep and access all of your notes and highlighted content in the Amazon Cloud, available anytime, anywhere - even after a rental expires. If you choose to rent again or buy at a later time, your notes will be there just as you left them, perfectly Whispersynced."

Amazon is not the only company championing the switch from physical to electronic textbooks. CourseSmart claims to have more than 90 percent of core textbooks used in the North American Higher Education system in a digital format, while the world’s largest bookseller Barnes and Noble offers eTextbooks through its NOOKstudy application.