It's already possible to lend and borrow Kindle books either from other Kindle owners or from some public libraries in the US. So why has it taken Amazon so long to launch it own lending facility?
Amazon has finally launched its own Kindle Owners' Lending Library - but for many it will seem to little too late.
The new service will be available only to owners of Kindle devices, including the soon-to-be-available Kindle Fire, that is, it excludes users of Kindle apps, who are also subscribers to its $79-a-year Amazon Prime program.
Amazon will restrict borrowers to maximum of one loan per month and while there is no time limit on the how long you can have a library book you have to check it in before borrowing another one.
The selection of titles is also limited. Initially Amazon will offer slightly more than 5,000 titles in the library, including more than 100 current and former bestsellers, but none of the six largest publishers in the U.S. is participating. According to the Wall Street Journal Online, several senior publishing executives said recently they were concerned that a digital-lending program of the sort contemplated by Amazon would harm future sales of their older titles or damage ties to other book retailers.
Participating publishers are being paid a fixed fee per title from Amazon no matter how many times their titles are borrowed and this policy has already been criticised:
Writing on O'Reilly Radar, Joe Wikert, who has always been a staunch ally of Amazon, voices his opposition:
I strongly believe this type of program needs to compensate publishers and authors on a usage level, not a flat fee. The more a title is borrowed, the higher the fee to the publisher and author.
Another issue that is causing concern is that, in order to offer titles from the publishers who don't want to be included, Amazon is actually purchasing books each time one borrowed by a reader under standard wholesale terms. While the Amazon press release justifies this underhand method as a way to
"demonstrate to publishers the incremental growth and revenue opportunity that this new service presents" it is
not going to impress the publishers who want to stay outside the scheme.
So while Russ Grandinetti, Amazon's vice president of Kindle content anticipates positive results on all sides from the Kindle Owners' Lending Library:
"Kindle owners will read even more, publisher revenues will grow, and authors will see larger royalty checks"
Its far from certain that this initiative will be the success that Amazon anticipates - which would in fact be demonstrated by an increase in Amazon Prime subscriptions.
There is certainly a consumer demand to be able to borrow books as demonstrated by the two Kindle book lending clubs set set up to as soon as the ability to lend titles was introduced on December 31st 2010. Both BookLending.com and Lendle work by matching lenders and borrowers and, despite the Amazon restrictions on loans, have each attracted an enthusiastic following.
Perhaps surprisingly, Lendle, the Kindle book lending scheme is expressing its support and encouraging its followers to join Amazon Prime to take advantage of the service. Like Amazon, Lendle sees the advantage to book sales of book borrowing and, given the limit of one title per month, for the Amazon service and its limited selection, there's still room for Lendle's service as well.
Since September it has also been possible to borrow Kindle titles from some US public libraries and for some libraries the early results have been positive. At the Seattle public-library system, e-book borrowing rose 32% in the month after Kindle books became available, according to librarian Kirk Blankenship. However, he too isn't worried about Amazon starting its own lending service.
"There's a lot of people that can't afford Amazon Prime and we also want to be a resource for people looking for other things beyond the best-seller list."
As with many Kindle developments this one is currently restricted to Amazon.com in the US and so will add to the irritation of customers of Amazon's international sites.
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