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On the eve of Apple’s highly anticipated foray into digital textbooks, the e-textbook wars are heating up.
Chegg, best known for selling and renting physical textbooks through the mail, will on Wednesday announce a new way for students to buy and rent textbooks to read online.

Its Web-based tool is a little less glitzy than other app-based digital textbook offerings. Those, from companies like Inkling or Kno, often offer features like the ability to circle a passage with your finger and to create flash cards and rich diagrams.

In contrast, books in Chegg’s online reader look more like regular books. “Sure, there are some flashy features that work on a very small number of books,” says Brent Tworetzky, director of product management at Chegg, referring to competitors. “But it isn’t that useful for students.”

Tworetzky says Chegg has about 40,000 digital textbooks now and has signed contracts with all the top publishers. Prices range from $20 to $120– 30% to 40% off the price of a new textbook.
Competitor Kno says it offers around 150,000 titles from around $5 to $100 per book, with rentals costing less. This week the company, co-founded by Osman Rashid, a former co-founder of Chegg, announced new interactive flash cards and a dashboard for students to better track their study habits. In addition to its iPad app, the company also offers a more basic online reader.

Inkling, which takes a different approach of rebuilding titles specifically for iPads, has around 110 books available today with many priced at around $100 per book, with individual chapters from $1.99. Its books boast bells and whistles like “interactive assessments” that provide feedback as students progress and 3D molecule models. Chegg CEO Dan Rosensweig says the company will eventually open up the new digital textbook service to others besides professional publishers. He adds that he believes Chegg’s other offerings, such as its rental business and site for helping kids with their homework, will help drive adoption.
“We want to offer textbooks in whatever format students want and at multiple price-points,” he says. 

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