Amazon Brings Library Lending to the Kindle
Amazon has joined Barnes & Noble, Sony and others in making e-books available for lending on its best-selling Kindle platform. The company announced Wednesday that Kindle books will now be available at over 11,000 libraries around the country for free, wireless download.
Customers can download books through participating libraries' websites simply by clicking a "Get For Kindle" button. Books are sent via Wi-Fi or can be transferred through a USB connection.
Of course, the vision of people seamlessly downloading borrowed books to Kindles and Kindle apps on their phones and tablets is not exactly a comforting one for book publishers.
"Amazon removes a potential obstacle from customers buying Kindles, but takes another potential bite out of the hand that feeds them—publishers," says industry analyst and Book Business blogger Michael Weinstein. "Amazon hasn't seemed too concerned about [doing] this, as witnessed by their growing publishing programs."
However, libraries were never the ruin of publishers before, Weinstein points out, and the lending of e-books need not change that, even as publishers continue to struggle with optimal price points and monetization models in the digital arena.
Some have responded by putting restrictions on lending—such as HarperCollins, which in March limited library check-outs of its e-books to 26 times, pegging the number to estimates of the "wear and tear" on printed copies—or by not allowing lending of their books at all, making the issue of libraries and e-books an important subset of the great digital rights management (DRM) debate.
"Publishers still need to find new ways of thinking about the sale [and] distribution of e-books," Weinstein says. "HarperCollins' approach to limiting the number of times a title can be lent is one."
Sweetening the pot for borrowers are the interactive features built into digital books. Using the Kindle's Whispersync technology, library patrons can save margin notes, highlights and bookmarks, and access them if they buy the book or check it out again.
So, not only do library e-books never wear out, they can be treated as one's own, if only temporarily. Of course, other Kindle features available to borrowers—such as social sharing of favorite passages on Facebook or Twitter—could increase awareness and interest in a book. Like so much else in the e-book market, the effect of e-book lending on future sales remains to be seen.