Amazon Kindle eBook lending is a poor deal for readers
When did you last borrow a book? Or lend one? Thanks to Amazon, this simple act of generosity will now be possible for eBooks on its widely-admired Kindle Reader.Astonishingly, something that has been a basic feature of paper books since the...
Astonishingly, something that has been a basic feature of paper books since the advent of mass publishing is being seen as a major concession. It’s a feature not a bug.
According to a new blog on the Kindle team site, the company is planning to allow users to ‘loan’ eBooks purchased through its online story for up to 14 days at a time, which sounds like good news until you factor in the limitations beyond the two-week limit.
As with physical lending, the book owner lender will not be able to access the book during the loan period - which sounds reasonable - but the concession will not apply to all eBooks, only those granted the feature by publishers and rights holders. The loan will also only be able to happen once. Ever.
Loaning books has always been a risky issue but the one-book limit makes that even more personal. Be careful who you lend your precious eBook to because nobody else will have the privilege unless you are willing to hand over the Kindle too.
This problem is partly technological in nature, but that’s only the start. The minute something becomes digital it becomes copyable many times over and, the argument goes, without digital rights management ‘loanable’ to the extent that this might smite sales.
There is nothing wrong with these concerns in principle but they highlight the limitations of electronic books that the eBook hype tends to fall silent on - eBooks lack the flexibility to easily match the sheer convenience of physical books.
But there’s more. Parts of the industry would be perfectly happy for readers to embrace the eBook without paying close attention to how the DRM seeks to change the relationship between the book seller and the book buyer in the former’s favour.
Let’s state this pessimistically. By selling readers books in digital form with layers of restrictions built in about what can be done with them (and what publishers can do to them, such as ‘delete’ them when they please), the user is actually now in the situation of legally borrowing something they once paid for and owned outright.
The ’borrowing’ is in effect already happening thanks to eBook licensing and what Amazon proposes is really a way of tweaking that to make it appear more palatable for niches such as libraries.
Let's be clear - I don't blame Amazon for any of this. The company has to juggle a number of issues not of its own making.
Readers need to strike a harder bargain. Ebooks should come with far better ‘lending rights’, perhaps something that could be purchased outright when one is bought. This is difficult to countenance right now because even with Amazon’s occasional eBook discounts, digital books are still too expensive. Adding a cost of top of that would render them uncompetitive.
There also needs to be some standards about how this concession is granted to readers, not just of Amazon’s eBooks on the Kindle but on all readers from all suppliers.
EBooks have potential to expand reading. But that should not come at the expense of changing the medium's nature to suit commercial expediency.