Amazon announced the Kindle Library Lending project today, Amazon’s first steps toward licensing and lending Kindle eBooks through libraries. The Amazon press release states that this is coming later this year, and provides scant details about how the service would work. A just-released Overdrive press release has more details. But I have a lot of questions.
My initial reaction is that this is potentially awesome, and potentially scary. Libraries have done nearly nothing with Kindles to date because Amazon won’t license eBooks to libraries. And Amazon won’t let libraries lend eBooks out on Kindles they’ve purchased. Both actions are against the “single user” terms and conditions clause Amazon has. Even so, some libraries have purchased Kindles, loaded them with eBooks, and lent out the devices anyway. Kindle publicly stated this was not cool, but never went after them legally. So this is really the first Kindle-Library service ever that wouldn’t potentially result in somebody getting sued.
Let me start by giving well-deserved props to Amazon and Overdrive for finally coming to the library table. Thank you!
Overdrive and Amazon aren’t yet commenting on the terms and conditions of lending (I’m awaiting replies to my letters of inquiry). So please keep in mind that much of this is speculation at this point.
- Tons of our users have Kindles so having eBooks to offer to our Kindle-using folks will be an overdue improvement in service.
- If the Overdrive press release is really, truly true, it sounds like all the eBooks we’ve bought from them so far will become magically available in a Kindle-compatible format (let’s assume AZWs), and all the future eBooks we buy will be available as AZWs and compatible in some other format that works on other devices (EPUB?). This is not consistent with their current practice that you pay for each format separately (e.g. buying one title in EPUB, PDF, and MOBI costs you three times). Will this represent an overall change in Overdrive’s pricing and licensing models for titles?
- How much is this going to cost us? The initial reports seem, frankly, too good to be true. How many libraries will be able to afford this mass Kindle conversion/addition to their collections?
- I think one can argue that Amazon is using their super-easy-to-use device’s market share to promote their proprietary AZW format further.
- Let’s also not forget that we’ll be dealing with two monopolies: Overdrive (monopoly on the library eBook market for popular titles) and Amazon (monopoly on Kindles and Kindle eBooks). This can’t be good for pricing, terms and conditions, long-term feature improvements, nothing. Monopolies never benefit consumers.
- In general, like others I’m not really sure why Amazon won’t just deal directly with libraries, which would be easier for us *and* remove the Overdrive middleman, which will probably end up costing us more money. More people involved = more cost, which gets passed on to us. Perhaps we’re just not a big enough perceived market to be worth the trouble? Hey Amazon – we are a big market. Come to us directly, please. It’s not too late.
- Will Kindle delivery happen via Whispernet as it does for consumers, or use the existing Overdrive console? Overdrive’s user experience has been consistently poor. You know this if you’ve worked with users trying to download eBooks from them. It’s gotten better, but bad web design and bad process design have been unfortunate hallmarks.
- Are we getting MARC records? They are essential to discovery for users, so I’d say this is a must and hope they’re forthcoming.
- How are library users’ privacy rights protected (the bookmarks & notes archiving they’re doing)? Both press releases say they will be, but….how?
- Do we have to include the “buy it from Amazon” links in the eBook user interface? I’m rather uncool with that personally, and it’s actually against some cities’ and counties’ policies to do so.
- We don’t know which publishers are participating. Simon & Schuster and Macmillan have chosen to never license eBooks to libraries at all. So is this a way around that (which would be sooooooo sweet)? Or can publishers opt out of this collection as they can with other Amazon services? Overdrive’s updated release makes it sound like publishers can still opt out.
- Also, remember that you will not own the eBooks you get from Amazon. Like all our eBooks from Overdrive, unless you negotiate your contract to say otherwise, you are just licensing titles for access year after year. You stop buying the platform and all of those eBooks you think you “bought” go *poof* and you have nothing to show for it. This model sucks for libraries’ ability to preserve the cultural record long-term, but it’s what exists now and we’ve accepted it (well I haven’t, but the profession seems to have accepted it without question). If nothing else, at least be aware of the position you’re putting yourself in by not owning your content.
Overall, to me, it’s just too soon to tell what this will look like. But it’s really exciting to me to see what’s shaping up, what people are saying, and what libraries are thinking about. We’re smart and fast, man. There are a ton of great posts up already about the issue. Take a look at these three for starters:
- Some Questions for Overdrive and Amazon about the Kindle Lending Library (Bobbi Newman)
- Kindle Library Lending (Jason Griffey)
- Amazon to Launch Library Lending for Kindle Books (Stephen Abram)