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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:

“Questions we should be asking about Kindle Library Lending”

  1. Galen Charlton Says:

    If the ebook delivery happens over Whispernet, that could have an interesting effect: it would instantly transform the Kindle from being useless for library ebooks to becoming the easiest platform to use OverDrive with. No downloads, no Adobe Digital Editions, just check out the book, wait a moment for OverDrive to tell Amazon to authorize the book, then retrieve it like a normal Kindle ebook purchase. All potentially for the low, low price of telling Amazon what you are checking out in ebook form from the library.

  2. Nari @ The Novel World Says:

    I think its awesome that Kindle is finally going to allow library lending e-books. The fact they didn’t was one of the biggest reasons why I never wanted to purchase a Kindle for myself. Seeing as they are linking with Overdrive, I wonder how this will effect the current library boycott of Harper Collins and their 26 ebook checkout limit, since most of Overdrive’s books come from HC.

  3. Danielle Says:

    And, of course, keep in mind that this is only for American libraries.

  4. JG Says:

    I was very surprised to read your take on this as it was about 95% different from my own. I’m the coordinator for our statewide public library OverDrive consortium, and have been for several years. My reading of this is that it is very similar to what OverDrive already does to allow our audiobooks on iPods. The WMA audiobooks are incompatible with Apple; however, the publishers gave permission for file conversion. So, when a patron transfers a WMA audiobook to an iPod, the Media Console software actually converts it to Apple’s AAC format as it transfers it. (If you’ve ever wondered, this is why the process is so incredibly slow.) I don’t have to repurchase in AAC format in order to get the compatibility.

    It sounds like this ebook process is much the same idea. As near as I can puzzle out, the patrons would check out an ebook in one of our existing formats (probably ePub and hopefully PDF). Instead of downloading the file to their harddrive or smartphone, they would choose to deliver it to their Kindle or Kindle app instead. The file would be converted to a Kindle-friendly format during the delivery stage. Like with the audiobooks, we wouldn’t have to repurchase anything.

    I haven’t seen anything that implies that we would have access to purchase ebooks from Amazon’s catalog of titles. It looks like the deal is basically for OverDrive to access Amazon’s Whispernet. I would love to be able to get at some of the additional publishers, but I’m not holding my breath. :)

    The one point where our questions coincide is the issue of privacy. I’m very familiar with Amazon’s system and how much (or how little) control consumers have over Amazon’s recordkeeping. The only way for this to work the way Amazon is touting it would require that Amazon track every Kindle user’s checkout history. There isn’t any way to truly delete purchasing history from a Kindle account, and I can’t see Amazon changing their practices now. My best guess is that the ‘privacy protection’ they’re referring to is the same security they use to keep our credit card numbers safe.

  5. SB Says:

    I’m sure this will mean a lot library users will now buy Kindles, and many who read a book on Kindle will then buy the book. It’s all good for Amazon.

  6. The Uncertain Future of the Horseless Carriage « Says:

    [...] reverberating across the library and publishing blogospheres (see Jason Griffey, Bobbi Newman, Sarah Houghton-Jan, and the Overdrive blog, in addition to the Amazon Press Release, for starters), Fast Company, [...]

  7. Sarah Says:

    @JG – you could be right. the process you describe would make sense. it’s just so hard to tell from the vague wording in the press releases what would actually happen. i do look forward to getting a definitive answer.

  8. Kelly Ford Says:

    What about accessibility for people with print disabilities here? Most of the Amazon Kindle apps do not work for example with screen reading solutions on the platforms where Kindle apps exist such as the iPhone and VoiceOver. I’ve seen nothing from OverDrive or Amazon. Libraries should demand accessibility as a part of spending public money here. At least one library took a stand over Adobe’s Digital Editions over similar issues. see http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/los-angeles-public-library-suspends-purchase-of-adobe-digital-editions-63591572.html.

  9. Houston, We Have A Problem « Agnostic, Maybe Says:

    [...] it raises concerns for me. In addition to the questions raised by Bobbi Newman, Jason Griffey, and Sarah Houghton-Jan (all very sharp queries), I think libraries are poorly positioned for this kind of move. Here’s [...]

  10. Rebecca Says:

    As a frequent library e-book user, I’m excited for the rest of the country, but cringe at the idea of the nypl waiting lists getting even longer.
    I mean, it sounds like either A) libraries will get a bonus copy (in azw format) of all the books they license, which will increase the pool of available books and perhaps offset some of bottlenecking of new users (however this rosy idea seems unlikely to me – why would they not charge libraries for azw format the same way they charge for epub, pdf, etc. They ARE in this to make a profit) or B) Libraries are already spending what they can on e-book licensing and paying for the azw versions of things will decrease the number of books libraries can license at all – in other words, they’re already paying for all the copies they can, now there will just be more users. And every waiting list will be hundreds of users long. Glass half-empty.

  11. Liz Castro Says:

    It does look like some sort of automatic conversion may be used. I found the phrase “This will work for your existing copies and units” on the Overdrive Digital Library blog very promising. More details in this blog post of my own, titled “Overdrive says Kindle will support EPUB and PDF” : http://www.pigsgourdsandwikis.com/2011/04/overdrive-says-kindle-will-support-epub.html

  12. Accord Amazon/OverDrive pour le prêt de livres numériques en bibliothèque « teXtes Says:

    [...] Quelques unes des  questions que cet accord suscite chez les bibliothécaires : Questions we should be asking about Kindle Library Lending Kindle Library Lending (Jason Griffey) Amazon to Launch Library Lending for Kindle Books (Stephen [...]

  13. Jennifer Meyer Says:

    I’m really just getting my footing in regard to library e-book lending. As a patron I have to agree with your assessment of Overdrive’s interface. It almost makes the user not want to hassle with it. Like Nari, my decision to buy my reader was due to the ability to borrow from the library. This seems to be Amazon’s way of hitting a select market of people that are currently not buying the Kindle. As a professional I’m not holding my breath with the benefits of this. E-books are tricky to navigate and I’m sure there are monetary reasons for Amazon to not wanting to work directly with libraries. (For some reason we seem to have the same problem with computer/technology businesses). Blah, really, I’m too new to the topic to be objective. All I want to do is scream to the heavens, “Just let us buy the book!!! What’s the problem?” I’m sure there is a complex point of view in here I’m missing. If someone would like the opportunity to explain it to me, I’m all ears and ready to learn.

  14. iLibrarian » Amazon Announces Kindle Lending for Libraries Says:

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  16. Zack Noyce Says:

    “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.”

    I don’t imagine that Amazon (or B&N, for that matter) is particularly interested in making it easy to get library ebooks onto their e-reader. As silly as it seems to people who know anything about libraries, I still get the feeling that Amazon (and other booksellers) see libraries more as competition than potential partners. Amazon is likely worried that — unless people have to deal with an often-frustrating middleman like OverDrive — people will buy fewer ebooks. I venture that most of the companies selling ebooks don’t want it to be easy for users to load borrowed ebooks on to their devices. They’re hoping that savvy users who weren’t going to buy a Kindle until they could read library ebooks on it will purchase one now. Meanwhile, they’re hoping that everyone else will get really excited about the new feature, try to borrow an ebook, get frustrated, and then give up and just go back to buying books that they might have borrowed instead.

    I believe that there are some serious holes in their reasoning. But forcing consumers to use a third-party middleman like OverDrive insulates Amazon and B&N from their customers’ criticism while accomplish the company’s goal of demonstrating to those same customers that the device’s proprietary store is and always will be the easiest (if not the cheapest) way to get an ebook.

  17. Karl Says:

    This part about not owning the content, isn’t this the same compromise we make in acquiring access the millions of articles through research databases?

  18. Sarah Says:

    @Jennifer: Libraries can’t just “buy eBooks” from Amazon or other eBook sellers because their terms and conditions prevent us from lending that copy out to people. Unlike print books, where there are no “terms and conditions” beyond standard copyright law, the terms and conditions for digital content actually overrides copyright law. It doesn’t make sense, it’s harmful to consumers and libraries, and is stupid. But that’s the way it is right now.
    @ZackNoyce: I agree with everything you say!
    @Karl: Yes, it is the same concession we’ve made with periodical subscription databases. And I have the exact same problem with doing that.

  19. Tony Roberts Says:

    Interesting comments from a librarian’s point of view.

    I’ve tried in the past to check out our library’s ebooks, but I gave up quickly. I spend 10 hours a day at my computer. There’s no way I want to do my recreational reading there as well. Digital Editions does not cut it.

    For this reason, the Kindle has been a great tool for me, so much so that I’ve given up on the library and paper books as well. My eyes aren’t as young as they used to be and I find that the font size in almost all print books is too small for me to comfortably read. I look forward to the day when I can borrow Kindle books from the library. I realize there will be operational challenges on this end, but that’s what this patron is hoping for.

    Thank you.

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  31. Amazon to Launch Library Lending for Kindle Books « Life of the Library – Portland, Maine Says:

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  33. Peter Schoenberg Says:

    I agree with most of your concerns. I would add the question, when is this coming to Canada? Hoping that more Canadian publishers will start making eBooks available to libraries as a result of this. Good job on TWIL.

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  44. Brad Wirz Says:

    As a huge reader and library patron this could be the final development that pushes me to buy a Kindle (Amazon take note). Please keep us updated as you learn the “real” deal between Amazon and the libraries. Great post!

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  49. rakhi Says:

    pls kindly tell me tht wht exact library word or term we can use for long term issue books.

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