Is this is one of those spine-chilling depression stories or just a sign that the bottom has finally dropped out of the gigantic, parasitic textbook market? It’s hard to tell. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Barns & Noble has expanded its college textbook rental program:

The new program, available though campus bookstores or the stores’ Web sites began as a pilot program in three of its 636 campus bookstores in the fall. It has now been expanded to 25 bookstores.

Some college bookstores that will offer the program include Ohio State University, the University of Maryland, Borough of Manhattan Community College and University of South Carolina.

Until recently only about two percent of colleges offered rental programs for textbooks but, with the economy as it is and with the success of the pilot program, America’s largest book retailer decided to offer its plan widely.

In the last 20 years the price of college textbooks has increased dramatically, at an average of six percent per year, about twice the rate of inflation. Both publishers and bookstores are responsible for incredible markups in a world where students have really limited options.

Even with the new program, the markup is still pretty high. According to the article, Barnes & Noble will rent books at (an oddly exact) “42.5 percent of their original price, so a $100 book would cost $42.50 to rent for the entire term.”

Well a paperback copy of Wuthering Heights retails for $4.95. Does that mean a student can rent the thing for a whole semester at $2.10?

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Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer