Something has long been missing from the electronic shelves at libraries. While users could check out ebooks for a number of ereaders, including Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Kindle editions have been conspicuously absent. Until Amazon announced a partnership with OverDrive on April 20, users of one of the most popular ereaders on the market have been left out in the ebook lending cold. Kindle Library Lending, which will launch later this year, will allow Kindle customers to borrow Kindle books from more than 11,000 libraries in the United States.
Kindle Library Lending will be available for all generations of Kindle devices and free Kindle reading apps. However, even as many users grew excited about the impending availability of Kindle editions—an exact date has not been announced for when the Kindle books will actually be available through libraries—questions started to pop up in the blogosphere and the library community
Libraries using OverDrive to power their “Virtual Branches” will simply find that Kindle editions of ebooks already in their electronic collections will appear. It should be as simple as that. The same goes for future purchases. According to the OverDrive blog, “Your library will not need to purchase any additional units to have Kindle compatibility.”
The Kindle allows users to take notes on ebooks borrowed from the library. If users check that book out again—or even if they eventually buy it—those notes will transfer, according to Amazon, thanks to the device’s Whispersync technology. As the press release puts it, “Normally, making margin notes in library books is a big no-no. But we’re extending our Whispersync technology so that you can highlight and add margin notes to Kindle books you check out from your local library. Your notes will not show up when the next patron checks out the book. But if you check out the book again, or subsequently buy it, your notes will be there just as you left them, perfectly Whispersynced."
This same technology allows users to wirelessly sync books, notes, highlights, and last page read across Kindle and free Kindle reading apps. Blogger Mike Cane predicted on his blog that this could be a game changer—both an ePub killer and the final step in Kindle domination of the ereader world. He wrote, “That’s just not possible with a Sony Reader, a Kobo Reader, a Nook—or any of their desktop or mobile programs.”
While the announcement of Kindle Library Lending may not quite be the final nail in the coffin of the Sony eReader, or any other device, it certainly stirred up a number of questions. Thanks to a vague initial announcement, the library and ebook communities lit up the web with questions. At the top of the list of concerns being tossed around in the blogosphere was how OverDrive and Amazon would handle the variety of electronic lending policies established by publishers. Some publishers, like Simon & Schuster, flat out refuse to license ebooks to libraries. Others, such as HarperCollins, allow libraries to lend an ebook a finite amount of times (in HarperCollins’ case that number is 26 times) before the file “self-destructs.” OverDrive quickly responded to these questions via its blog. Karen Estrovich, manager of content sales for OverDrive, wrote “The Kindle Library Lending program will support publishers’ existing lending models.”
“We mainly have two lending policies in place: one copy/one user, and always available for simultaneous use—what we refer to as ‘Max Access,’” says David Burleigh, director of marketing at OverDrive. In other words, nothing has really changed. Libraries have long been offering ebooks by authors from publishing houses like HarperCollins, and have, therefore, been bound by those policies. The same will be true for Kindle editions. As for actual loan periods, he says, “Each library will continue to set their lending period as they do now.”
Many have also wondered about the availability of self-published content. The Kindle—along with other devices, like the Nook—makes it possible for self-published writers to sell their work to Amazon shoppers, so many have wondered if this self-published content would start popping up in libraries. Burleigh says, “This is about making existing library ebook catalogs accessible to Kindle device and Kindle Reading Apps, not the other way around.”
With that being said, self-publishers need not fear being completely left out. “OverDrive currently works with more than 1,000 publishers from the largest global houses to small independent shops and several self-published authors, such as J.A. Konrath,” adds Burleigh. In other words, whether or not self-published material pops up in your library, depends on whether or not the library sees fit to purchase the material.
Despite the initial flurry of questions surrounding this announcement it seems that, when all is said and done, not much will change. Kindle-using library patrons will now be able to get ebooks in their preferred format, and that’s about the whole of it. Perhaps some people in the library community were hoping that Amazon could use its clout to somehow persuade publishers like HarperCollins to ease up on libraries, and reconsider its unpopular library lending policy—which basically requires libraries to repurchase the most popular books over and over again—but that doesn’t look as though it’s in the cards, at least not for now.