Kindle’s New Lending Feature: A Major Disappointment

Without much fanfare, Amazon has started to allow lending of Kindle books. As someone published in the Kindle store, I was notified by email this morning. Amazon had the opportunity to do something innovative but they chose to cripple this new feature in the same was that Barnes & Noble did with the Nook.

When the Nook was originally announced, there was a lot of fanfare. One of the main attractions at the time was its ability to lend books. This really excited me as I was a school librarian at the time. (I wrote more about this topic in E-book Readers in the School Library as well as E-books: How Should Schools Embrace the New Technology.)

Here are the main limitations:

  • You can only lend a book once.
  • You can only lend a book for 14 days.
  • Publishers have the option of not allowing you to lend their book.

These restrictions make this an almost useless feature for most people and particularly schools. It is better than not being able to lend at all, but not by much.

Furthermore, Amazon has decided to coerce publishers. There are two royalty brackets for Kindle publishers 35% and 70%. The 70% royalty has always had more conditions, such as pricing the book between $2.99 and $9.99 so customers have a monetary reason to choose e-books over physical books. Now, to keep the 70% royalty you must enable the sharing option.

For the record, I have no problem with sharing and would have enabled it on my book anyway, but I am never a fan of coercion. In addition, all of the blame cannot rest with Amazon or even Barnes & Noble, the company that pioneered these inane restrictions. The publishing company is terrified at the moment and requires DRM protection on everything and, while I have no direct supporting research, their prior actions suggest that they would balk at an unlimited lending feature. Here’s the problem, though. When I buy a physical movie, CD, or book, I lend it to whoever I want for however long I want. Sometimes, I even give them away. If I buy a digital product, I should still be the owner of that product and be able to with it as I will.

I would be curious to hear your opinion as the overall tenor of the discussions I am seeing on blogs and Twitter is fairly positive. Am I missing the mark here?

Here is the email from Amazon explaining the new feature. As it was sent to millions, I feel no qualms about reproducing it below.

Dear Publisher,

We are excited to announce Kindle book lending (http://www.amazon.com/kindle-lending). The Kindle Book Lending feature allows users to lend digital books they have purchased through the Kindle Store to their friends and family. Each book may be lent once for a duration of 14 days and will not be readable by the lender during the loan period.

All DTP titles are enrolled in lending by default. For titles in the 35% royalty option, you may choose to opt out of lending by deselecting the checkbox under “Kindle Book Lending,” in the “Rights and Pricing” section of the title upload/edit process. You may not choose to opt out a title if it is included in the lending program of another sales or distribution channel. For more details, see section 5.2.2 of the Term and Conditions.

For more info on how Kindle Book Lending works, see our FAQ here: http://forums.digitaltextplatform.com/dtpforums/entry.jspa?externalID=581

Sincerely,
Amazon Digital Text Platform

  • http://clerestorylearning.com Kevin D. Washburn

    I think lending is fine IF it follows the same protocol as lending a physical book. What I mean: when I lend a physical book, I can only lend it to one person at a time. If the e-book followed this same principle I’d have no problem with it. But, if the e-book can be loaned to multiple individuals at a time, then that’s different (speaking as an author). If the purchaser owns one copy of the e-book, it should only be lone-able to one individual at a time. But once the owner gets the copy “back,” I think he should be able to loan it to another single individual, if desired. Basic principle: the loan protocol should follow what exists in the hard copy world. That’s my two-cents’.

  • http://pgcummings.wordpress.com Philip Cummings

    I’m pleased with the Kindle announcement primarily because I think it’s a step toward the right direction. Hopefully, we will see the feature expand as people begin to use it more. I think Kevin makes a great point about our ability to share being limited with physical items, too, and think his suggestion is excellent. I love my Kindle. It’s not a perfect device, and the inability to share my books has been a mild annoyance, but this is a start–maybe not a good start but a start none the less. Happy New Year, Jason. I look forward to seeing you in a few weeks.

  • http://jasontbedell.com Jason Bedell

    Kevin,
    As a wannabe author as well, I agree lending should be limited to one at a time, as it is with a physical book. The lending rules should mirror the real-world though. When I get the book back, I should be able to relend.
    Philip,
    I’m happy they are trying to be more user friendly. I’m annoyed in that they have the size and the influence to do something meaningful and they chose not too. Hopefully you are right and it improves in time.

  • Catherine

    Check out the Kindle Lending Club page on Facebook – for people to request and offer Kindle book loans, discover great new books for free, and share their collection with other book lovers:

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Kindle-Lending-Club-Borrow-and-Lend-Kindle-Books/152751058110306

  • Jim

    I’m a writer and a composer. I cannot tell you the
    he// I went through for 15 years living off little and
    always being hungry, unable to pay bills, etc., to get
    my music finally recorded.

    Then came Napster and MP3 and everyone else, and my
    music is all over the world, downloaded countless times
    for absolutely free. Most people today don’t care if I
    make a royalty or not. They have no idea what I paid
    in time and energy and health to finally get recorded,
    they think they have an inherent right to download my
    tunes for free because (fill in the blank).

    Now finally I have a book and I have to sell it under
    a condition that to earn what I should (70%) I have to
    lend it — and hope that the individual doesn’t have
    some special software or other to copy it and redistribute
    it wherever and whenever for money HE or she makes off
    doing so while I’m left with another 3 year effort
    (that’s how long it took to write the book)from which
    I may likely see some profit but hardly what the
    cheats are making.

    No, he// no to Kindle Lending. If it we a paperback
    or hard-bound, ok, lend it, because only 1 person at a
    time can read it. But online, with download speeds that
    can copy the entire world in perhaps a single minute
    with your work, no, definitely out of the question.

    Yes to lending paperback, hard-bound;
    Absolutely NO to online lending.

  • http://jasontbedell.com Jason Bedell

    Jim,

    As a fellow author, I can definitely appreciate your perspective. However, I think it is important to realize that every study done shows that those who have pirated are the most likely to buy the work. We all need to make a living. When I write, while I hope to make money, my goal is to help people. Lending can help accomplish that. That you for your perspective.

  • CB

    If the digital price is significantly less than the hard copy price, I don’t think there should be an automatic right to lend it like a hard copy. That said lending IMHO is likely to have only a net positive effect on sales overall.