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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Amazon Begins Lending Kindle Books without Libraries

Last month, we reported that Amazon had agreed to allow public libraries to lend e-books for its popular Kindle e-reader. Now Amazon has gone a step further, bypassing libraries and allowing Amazon Prime subscribers to borrow books for their Kindles directly from Amazon. Naturally, this has produced a wide range of reactions.

Users Happy; Authors, Publishers Not So Much
Amazon Prime subscribers who own Kindles, of course, have no reason to be anything other than thrilled with this arrangement. In addition to receiving free two-day shipping on any order and streaming of movies and TV shows, subscribers can now borrow e-books for their Kindles without any increase in the Prime program’s $79 yearly fee.1 This lending benefit only applies, however, to users who actually own Kindle devices—Kindle apps on other devices are not eligible.2

Others, though, aren’t quite as excited about Amazon’s announcement. Among them are publishers and authors, who seem unsure of how Amazon will compensate them when subscribers borrow their e-book titles.3 This confusion has led each of the “big six” publishing houses to withhold their titles from the lending program, forcing Amazon to draw heavily from titles they’ve published themselves as well as from self-published titles.⁴ Thus, this program may offer exposure to authors and titles that otherwise may have struggled to find it. And if it proves successful, you can expect Amazon and publishers to find some common ground and expand the program.4

Effect on Libraries
That being the case, some have wondered what this program will mean for libraries. As with much of the e-book revolution, some are calling this a “death knell” for libraries.5 And, as with all those other pronouncements, the kindest thing you can say is that it’s premature. As we already mentioned, without the big six publishers on board, the selection of titles available is very limited. There are currently just 5,463 titles available for borrowing by Prime members.6

Also, the Prime subscription currently allows members to borrow just one book per month.7 That’s certainly not going to be enough to satisfy hardcore library users. Nor do those pessimistic about libraries’ future consider all the other items, services, and intangibles that public libraries have to offer. Not to mention that using the library is completely free! (Well, as long as you bring your items back on time, that is.)

What Do You Think?
It seems from here that libraries are safe from Amazon’s lending service, but what do you think? Have you heard comments from library users who own Kindles about e-book availability through the library or from Amazon itself? Let us know in the comments section below.


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