Lending books is not new, why fight it?

I just borrowed my first book on Amazon with my Prime membership. The message I got once it was processed was that I can borrow again on December 1, 2011. That is just about a week away. This sounds like they enforce the one-book-per-month on the turn of the the month and not necessarily on the anniversary of the last borrow. Good to know.

There has been quite the uproar in the media lately with this lending program from Amazon. Authors and publishers claiming everything from a violation of ToS and contractual agreements to being cheated out of profits; and Amazon is practically silent in all of the furor. At least, I haven’t seen a news story yet with any comment from Amazon on the matter – have you? (Let me know in the comments if you have).

Libraries have been lending books for decades. Centuries, even. Lending books is not a new concept. People have been lending and borrowing books within book clubs and amongst their friends for as long as books could be bought. I’ve lent and borrowed quite a few books in my time. Being the avid reader I have always been, there was always someone lending or borrowing in my world.

That libraries were to start lending eBooks was a welcome piece of news for me despite the fact that lending was going to be limited to the ePub versions to start off with. That ruled out my Kindle from being eligible – but I was confident that someday, Kindle lending would become a reality too.

Now it has – both the Overdrive library program and the Kindle lending library are now a reality. However, the big name traditional publishers all of a sudden have a problem with book lending. The latest big publisher to speak out is Penguin books. They withdrew their titles from all lending programs earlier this week claiming “security concerns”.

One article I saw mentioned that normally “security concerns” normally refers to piracy but that in this case, Penguin is probably more concerned with something about the Kindle Lending program itself. What that might be, I cannot imagine. How would the Amazon lending program threaten security? Anyone care to hazard a guess?

To be honest, eBooks from the big name publishers like Penguin only entice me to keep looking. Most often, their eBook prices are listed above the cost of a hardcover version. Which tells me that it’s ALL about the profits and not about the common sense of it. If I see a book that costs $14 for the hardcover and $16 for the digital version, one surmises the thinking is that I will opt for the hardcover because it’s cheaper. The problem with that logic is that if I couldn’t afford the hardcover in the first place, I wasn’t likely to be buying the book at all – I would seek to borrow it instead – from a library or a friend.

eBooks were suppose to open up reading and books to more people – make books more accessible to people – especially people who either didn’t have the physical space for books, or for those who just found it economical to buy digital editions, like me. Were I to buy physical books (or even books at big-name-publisher prices) at the rate I read, I would be not only broke, but I would have to move out of my house to make room for books. That logic alone meant more profits and specifically from sources that weren’t necessarily buying before.

And while I sympathize with the writers and authors on the whole idea of being cheated out of revenue with the advent of eBooks, I have to ask whether that view is as accurate as we think it is. Look at the Amada Hockings of this world – it seems to me that traditional publishing houses and their elitist policies didn’t cripple their earnings by much. Why not embrace the digital age? Why not show the big-name publishers that it’s time to re-think their entire existence? Why not show them that digital doesn’t mean being cheated or being cheap? Why not show them that the book selling at 0.99 is likely to garner as much revenue (if not more so) than the $14 counterpart?

I don’t say free (although free is nice too), I say reasonable – what say you?

  • Junquemael

    For centuries the flow of printed information has been choked into a narrow channel by a handful of publishers throughout the world. With the advent of the ebook that strangle hold is ending. Consider this, the methodology for choosing which book is to be published and which will languish on the infamous “slush pile” has been iffy at best. For the most part, it is by random selection. Unless an author is well represented by an agent his or her chance of getting published is only slightly better than being hit by a meteorite. Now anyone can become a publisher or a published author. One might argue that this would allow poorly crafted works to flood the marked and there is likely a great deal of validity in that argument. However, I believe that if someone becomes an “ebook” publisher and does not show at least moderate skill in thinning the herd then they will ultimately die out. The point of this ramble is this, “in-print” publishers don’t want the competition and they fear their work will be easily duplicated and disseminated by unauthorized individuals. Regardless, if they DON’T get into the ebook game, it is THEY who will be left behind. I have read and enjoyed dozens of ebooks by relative amateur publishers and authors.

    • http://fyrfli.net Camille

      Thank you for your insight – that is a precise description of what has been happening with books.

  • J Miller

    Amazon does not have to say anything about it. They have a huge company probably outselling many of those who complain. I am a grown person and do not have to say anything about my choices in life. As a legal entity they do not have to explain any of their choices to anyone. More power to you, Amazon. Great job. Thank you for thinking of the people who patronize your company more than the almighty dollor.

    • http://fyrfli.net Camille

      Thank you for lending your voice to the throng!

  • Osilva04

    As a librarian, I think that eBook lending is very much like printed book lending. For us librarians, it makes sense for an eBook to be more expensive because we can lend it to several patrons (could be several simultaneous loans), and the eBook will not be abused, underscored, returned late, and things like that. For us librarians it is nonsense to buy several eBook licenses, unless it is demonstrated that we are going to have, say, 20 readers, and a license is for five simultaneous users. Thus, thinking about licensing is not as simple as buying two or three copies of a printed book.