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Kindle Library Lending Announcement Raises Questions
Posted On April 28, 2011
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.

Theresa Cramer is editor, EContent and Intranets.

Email Theresa Cramer

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Comments Add A Comment
Posted By Barbara Henry4/28/2011 5:25:20 PM

One concern not mentioned is that this "Kindle Library Lending" feature is very Kindle branded. The Kindle format will be added to a library's ebook purchases, i.e. libraries will not pay extra. A gift from Amazon? Not everyday do libraries get free content. So, of course we are happy that we don't have to buy a Kindle format. But, libraries do not have much say in this at all. Amazon is really in control here--as they say "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away." Libraries seem to be at the mercy of whatever Amazon agrees to with Overdrive. One wonders what deals have been made. What is Amazon's motive here? My guess is further solidifying market domination, killing off competition. I read that the Kindle Library Lending will be a "seamless" borrowing process unlike the tech hoops ePub other e-readers have to jump through with Adobe DRM, that it will all be done through WhisperSync, Kindle's technology. This will further drive library ebook users into the Kindle camp. We end up with the joining together of two potential monopolies--Amazon and Overdrive. Soon there won't be much else out there, hardly is now, especially Overdrive which has the library ebook market to itself.
Posted By Adam Rothberg4/28/2011 10:36:33 AM

In regards to ebooks and libraries, your article states that "Some publishers, like Simon & Schuster, flat out refuse to license ebooks to libraries."

In actuality, Simon & Schuster's current status, and as we have stated numerous times on the record, is that we have not yet found a business model for ebooks and libraries with which we are comfortable.

That is, i think, a substantial difference from a flat out refusal, and offers the hope that there will one day be a model that is satisfactory to all the parties involved -- library, reader, author and publisher.

Thank you,
Adam Rothberg
Senior Vice President, Corporate Communications
Simon & Schuster

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