Although I’m curious about the idea of Amazon’s book rental option, I do not think that publishers will be forced to become a part of it due to poor print sales.
Let’s face it, the entire publishing industry has seen a change in how it sells books for quite a few years now. Press runs have become smaller due to a demand for e-books, especially in the romance sector (which is where I publish). It’s not so much that publishers aren’t making up revenue for print, but that they have to find a new business model that works. E-books allow publishers to put out more titles per year, some of them as e-book only, with a smaller amount of risk. If you look at the way the romance market embraced digital content, especially smaller romance publishers (i.e. Ellora’s Cave, Dreamspinner, Loose ID and even my press, Seventh Window) then you will see a successful business model that works.
The truth of the matter is that paper and hardcover titles are an easy way to lose money for a publisher. They have to deal with returns, which can at times be crippling, especially for a small press. If publishers will stop griping about having to change their business model and embrace digital content and the change in business, they’ll find a way of increasing revenue they feel is “lost”.