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Lend Me an eBook
If you don’t already own an e-reader, you might want to consider a few recent developments in e-book lending. Depending on how you feel about your lending options, you may want to wait a little longer.
Why is lending important? I think this is a killer app for e-books, unfortunately publishers and e-book sellers are so obsessed with their own version of digital rights management that they’re going out of their way.
When I buy a print book, it’s because I want to read it. Oh. But as soon as I finish the book (if it’s good), I want to share it with someone else. It could be my wife, my neighbor, my sister, my friend. Sometimes I give this person a book. I don’t need a computer science degree, I don’t need to go to a web page, I just hand over the book. No programming interface is required.
But when it comes to e-book lending, not everything is so simple. Many e-books can be purchased for personal use only. The Barnes and Noble Nook was the first eReader to enable lending: it’s still a very complicated and very limited process. Only certain e-books can be borrowed. If they can, only once, and only for people with a Nook or Nook app. You can’t read an e-book while it’s on loan for two weeks, and if your recipient hasn’t finished reading it at the end of the loan period, it’s automatically returned to the donor.
Amazon has been quietly activating its credit option for the past few months. When you order a Kindle version of a book, it says at the top of the page if the book is available for loan. For e-books you have already purchased, you should go to your digital library and check out each book. In general, you can borrow books for two weeks at a time. Recipients don’t have to have a Kindle, they can download the free Kindle app for iPhone, Mac or Windows.
But the biggest market for borrowing books is your local public library. Most libraries use an application called Overdrive to manage their digital collections, including music and video. Libraries buy e-books in bulk, so that’s where the big bucks come from.
In the past, the Overdrive software worked much like B&N or the Kindle lending function: the library lends out digital copies of books, and patrons have a limited amount of reading time. Once borrowed, no one else can read the e-book (unless the library buys as many copies as physical books). But that is changing.
HarperCollins last week decided to limit the number of e-books that can be borrowed to a total of 26 times. As a result, many libraries have already announced that they will no longer purchase any HC e-books. You don’t want to waste your money on something that has a shelf life of about a year. Overdrive should now separate HC books so you can tell which credit limit they have.
Then there’s BookLending.com, a commercial service that lets people upload e-books they want to lend to others, making it easy to match them with borrowers. It’s new and I’m not sure what it is: in theory, it’s a good idea.
A number of new book sharing sites are popping up, making the reading experience more like a social network. These include thecopia.com, Digress.it, Bookglutton.com, Librarything.com, and MobNotate.com. I haven’t spent much time on any of these sites, but I don’t think so: readers want to read, Gen Y is not a reading generation, and the marriage of the two seems unlikely.
However, in the latest move by HarperCollins, the e-book industry appears to be saddling itself with unworkable DRM similar to what the music industry experienced in the early days of Napster. Until e-books become easier to borrow, e-readers will not be common. Imagine preloading your favorite books into your eReader and streaming them to your book club? Or is there an easy way to access your library on some website that can be bulk loaded into an eReader? These are just two of the new types of use cases I can think of. Yes, I want to check out a local independent bookstore: but I also want to be able to easily share my favorites.
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