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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Kindle Enters the Lending Market

If you haven't heard, Amazon has put into place a means by which ebooks purchased through Amazon on the Kindle can be loaned out to other users, in a means similar to Barnes & Noble's Nook. It was one of the main advantages that the Nook had over the Kindle. But the publisher of the ebook has to allow it to be lendable. Something I don't see most publishers choosing not to do.

With Nook growing in market share, Amazon seeks to take away one of the main reasons the customer might choose a Nook over a Kindle. Meanwhile, the recent opening of Barnes & Noble's PubIt service seeks to wedge into the growing ebook market by offering a service similar to Amazon's Digital Text Platform, where publishers and authors can publish ebooks and sell directly on Barnes & Noble's site. An obvious move to grow their ebook inventory to offset one of Amazon's biggest advantages in offering the Kindle: the biggest inventory of ebooks available.

Problem is, Amazon is so far ahead on the curve here, that it will be an uphill battle for B&N to catch up. Not impossible, mind you, but still they are behind Amazon on this by several years. It has only been in the last year when it became painfully obvious how fast the ebook market was growing, that they have pushed to get these features into place. But while they are rushing to catch the ebook wave before it gets away from them, Amazon is already surfing on top.

But lending is an important feature which should be expanded on and grow. Why? Because it will help cut into piracy of ebooks. Piracy will always be with us, but one of the reasons some give why they should be free to give a copy of an ebook to someone else is that libraries share their books, and people loan out their books, or sell them used, all the time. This is no different.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but it is very different. If I take my copy of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and let a friend borrow it, and then the next day decide I want to read it...guess what? I don't have the copy. Because I have loaned out the copy I purchased, I no longer have it in my possession to read. I didn't run to Kinkos and have them make a copy, then give it to my friend. That would be breaking copyright law. And if I decide I'll go check out the book at my library, I may find that someone else has that copy of the book checked out, and I can't use it. Why? Because the copy that the library purchased can only be in one hand at a time. The library doesn't make a copy of each book to give to borrowers.

As I've mentioned before, copyright means who has the legal right to make a copy of a work. When I loan out a copy I have, I'm not making another copy of it, thus breaking no copyright law. However, when I loan out a copy of an ebook, what I usually would do is to make a copy of that book onto that person's device. In order to avoid breaking copyright law, I then have to delete my copy from my device so that there is only one copy. But few bother with that last step. They may fear not getting the copy back. Or they may fear the person could lose it, and it would be gone (much like a real book). So it is easier to leave your own copy on your device. Maybe you won't read it, but the reality is you've broken copyright law by making a copy of a book without permission.

The lending function solves this dilemma for the person who wants to be legal, but generally isn't for the above reasons. Because even if you loan a digital book out and delete the copy off your hard drive, when you get it back, you have no way to control whether the other person has deleted their copy, and most likely they haven't. With this lending function, not only does it insure that you keep the ownership of that copy, not only does it allow you to loan out a book and not break copyright law since you can't use that book while it is loaned out, not only does it insure that after the predetermined time is up, you'll get use of the book back, but it insures that the person who received the loaned book will no longer have access to it, so they don't break copyright law either.

This will help reduce what I might call incidental piracy. The person isn't wanting or trying to break copyright law, but does so in an attempt to loan a book to someone. But they aren't posting the copy on the Internet for the world to download. It isn't overt piracy. Most who commit incidental piracy aren't intending to break copyright law and will welcome a means whereby they can loan out books without worrying about breaking the law.

Adding the vast number of Kindle users to the army of those available to lend books will speed up the process of making this a standard feature on ebooks. Libraries could benefit from this greatly, by being able to lend out ebooks. Everyone benefits from this functionality. Kudos to Amazon for putting this into place, and big kudos goes to Barnes & Noble for introducing this function on the Nook and so forcing folks like Amazon to adopt this as a standard feature.

Have you needed to lend out an ebook to someone? If so, how did you do it?

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