E-textbooks may be the way of the future for college campuses, but some scrappy companies are banking on the here and now by offering a solution to bring low-cost textbooks to students, and in some ways they’re taking a page out of movie rental company Netflix Inc’s playbook.Reader

New college textbooks are a $4.5 billion business for dominant players such as Pearson PLC, privately held Cengage Learning and McGraw-Hill Companies Inc.  But upstart companies such as Chegg and BookRenter.com are gaining momentum by offering used books at a discount on their websites, and shipping them to students, who later ship the books back when they are done with them.

If that sounds a little like Netflix’s business model, it may not be that much of a coincidence. Marc Randolph, who was a co-founder of Netflix, is a board member on the privately-held BookRenter.com.

“Very similar to Netflix, we are going to get you your educational content at the most affordable price and the way the students want it,” said Mehdi Maghsoodnia, CEO of BookRenter.com.

Maghsoodnia said the total available market for the used college textbook market is about $4 billion, and his company is in a race with Chegg to capture that market, although at the moment it is only a third the size of Chegg. Maghsoodnia said that BookRenter’s annual revenue is under $50 million, but growing fast.