inTouch: Amazon’s New Kindle Lending Program Under Scrutiny
The Authors Guild opens a blog post opposing Amazon’s lending library with a question: “Are any of the books in Amazon’s new e-book subscription/lending program properly there?”
Really, the lending program that Amazon has now made a part of its $79 a year Amazon Prime membership is nothing to write home about. If you are a Prime member, you can borrow e-books at the rate of, one at a time and one per month. The previously borrowed book will de-materialize when you download the next one. And, while Amazon’s lending library features over 5,000 titles, it’s missing many must-read books because the country’s biggest publishers did not want to participate.
You could do better with Overdrive, which distributes e-books to libraries, since it has a wider selection and fewer restrictions. This past September, Amazon lifted its restrictions on e-book lending and decided to work with Overdrive so now Kindle users could borrow e-books from a library, as users of other e-readers had already been doing.
So what’s wrong with lending books? Plenty when they are e-books and the rights have not been negotiated with the authors or publishers. Lending books is not the only perk of Amazon Prime membership, but as with many things Amazon does, this aspect of the service is stirring up controversy.
Publishers Weekly reports that Amazon included some titles without asking the publishers first and that some publishers “took a licensing fee for including titles in the program” without consulting authors.
Writing for The Washington Post, Virginia Postrel speculates that the Amazon Lending Library is one step towards bundling books, something that would be a giant leap towards unquestioned domination. Postrel writes that in the traditional publishing model, “Every title is a unique good, and every customer values each book a little differently.”
However, e-books, while no less valuable, are perceived differently. They are not shipped over land and sea and you don’t pick them up in a store comparing one to another.
“Amazon’s lending library, which comes along with free shipping, streaming video and whatever else the company next decides to throw into an Amazon Prime subscription, is a move toward bundling digital books.”
Of course, publishers and authors, quite naturally will cry foul because from a monetary standpoint, book bundling may violate their contracts and deprive them of profit they should rightfully have.
From a more philosophical standpoint, the threat of book bundling makes it seem as if books are interchangeable. Publishing has long treated book projects like products: books are not simply physical manifestations of creative impulses; they are vehicles for profit. But, some were valued more than others. Certain authors could get better contracts and more attention and the editors of those books would be more favored as well. Bundling books together for a flat fee could cut down on that kind of differentiation.
Of course, you may wonder why publishers and authors don’t object to libraries overall. There are many reasons for this. Libraries buy books directly from publishers and there are longstanding relationships between publishers and libraries. They are seen as institutions that promote reading and exist for the public good. But the resistance towards Amazon’s lending program is not just rooted in the fact that Amazon has not been around long; it is also based in the very real fear that Amazon may take over the book business.
Does the outcry over Amazon’s Kindle Online Lending Library amount to much ado about nothing or has Amazon taken too much license in creating this lending program?
Post your Thoughts below.