In the US you can lend Kindle books, and a new website has launched to match lenders and borrowers online. Is this yet another nail in the coffin for the humble local library?
The Kindle Lending Club, which launched recently in the US, deals with the single biggest problem with lending ebooks: finding someone to lend to and borrow from.
What started as a Facebook group has quickly grown into a website with 4,000 users and nearly 3,500 lendable books. Provided you’re a US user (Amazon hasn’t enabled book lending in the UK yet) you log in, search for books you want to lend and borrow, and the community does the rest.
It sounds great, but there are issues to iron out.
Altruism required for lending to work
One obvious problem is that the club depends on the kindness of strangers. There’s no particular incentive to lend books as opposed to borrowing them, unless the lenders actively seek out reciprocal users.
The motivation is further dented by Amazon’s limitations on lending books. Each can only be lent once and publishers can opt out of lending altogether, reducing the number of books available to users.
Amazon’s system does solve one big problem with lending books, though – getting them back.
Unlike lending physical books, where the likelihood of getting your book back is slim to none, Kindle books are returned automatically after two weeks. Not so great if you haven’t finished reading the book yet, but at least the lender knows they’ll have their property returned – and it won’t be dog-eared.
Online lending is the future
Though it’s evidently early days for online lending, the likes of the Kindle Lending Club are undoubtedly the future of book loans. Some libraries are dabbling in ebook lending themselves, but pure online services are a far more compelling option. Why traipse down to the local library when there are thousands of like-minded book lovers willing to share their wares online?
Moreover, as we’ve seen with film rental services like LoveFilm (recently bought by Amazon) there’s ample opportunity for online book clubs where you pay to loan as many books as you like. Who’s putting money on Amazon launching just such a service?
Finally, if you were in any doubt as to the success of ebooks, Amazon recently announced that Kindle books outsold paperbacks for the first time in the fourth quarter last year, and outsold hardbacks three times over. The third generation Kindle also surpassed Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as its all-time bestseller.
On this evidence, I’d say ebooks are here to stay, and libraries will have to adapt to survive.