As far as I can tell, Barnes & Noble started it all when, as they were preparing to launch their Nook device and service in late 2009 and wanted to differentiate it from Amazon’s existing Kindle service, they decided to allow one legitimate lending of a Nook ebook (the etext, not the device) for a two week period. Some librarians I spoke with about this Nook lending option scoffed at it. One opportunity to lend an ebook over the life of your ownership does not seem like much. I even joked about how this could cause interpersonal distress. “I thought I was your primary Nook friend.” Most librarians I spoke with saw little or no relationship between this form of elending and the type of public good, institutional elending that libraries and library users want and need.
Then late in December 2010 Amazon announced a similar arrangement for the lending of Kindle editions. Amazon offered pretty much the same terms: one two-week lending period, and the owner cannot read the ebook while it is out on loan to someone else. Oh, and the rights holders (publisher, author, author’s estate, etc.) get to decide on a per title basis whether or not an etext will be lendable.
These sound like little baby steps toward a robust lending model for the ereading era, but things are taking off. When librarians talk about elending models, the assumption – explicit or implicit – is that libraries will do the lending. In fact, many interesting ebook lending clubs have sprung up, especially since the Kindle lending announcement.
Here’s a list of eBook Lending Clubs of which I’m aware, listed in alphabetical order. If you know of others, please comment.
- BookLending.com: Up until last week this service was known as KindleLendingClub.com, but I think they received a pointed cease-and-desist letter from Amazon, undoubtedly suitable for framing. For the moment, only users with U.S. Amazon accounts can lend their Kindle editions, but users everywhere can borrow Kindle editions, unless geographic restrictions apply. In mid-Feb. The Globe and Mail reported that this service had 12,000 registered users and approximately 600 circulations per day. (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/arts/books/the-rise-of-the-e-book-lending-library-and-the-death-of-e-book-pirating/article1912797/)
- Booklends.com: This service is still in private beta.
- BooksForMyKindle.com: They may be getting a friendly cease and desist letter soon, too. Registration is free. You have to list one of your Kindle editions as available for lending before you can borrow someone else’s. They have a rating system for book lenders, which includes how many of their Kindle editions have actually been loaned through this service, the lender’s promptness in responding to loan requests, etc.
- BooksForNooks.com: This may be the original of these ebook lending clubs, founded by “…Leonard Sixt, a self-employed technology consultant out of Tampa, Florida.” (http://www.prweb.com/releases/2011/02/prweb5056694.htm) He also launched BooksForMyKindle.com.
- eBookFling.com: This service is powered by BookSwim, which is a subscription based book delivery system (think Netflix for printed books). With eBookFling you can toss about both Kindle and Nook editions. If you lend one of your etexts, you earn credits. If you want to borrow someone else’s etext, you spend one of your credits. If you don’t have any credits, you can pay $1.99 to borrow an etext. EBookFling does not explain how that $1.99 is distributed.
What I find fascinating about these eBook lending clubs is that they realized that, once Barnes & Noble and Amazon enabled the lending of etexts, a nascent market had been born. However, it was an inefficient, disorganized market because, if I own a lendable Kindle edition, I have no efficient way to lend that etext to someone else who wants to read it, unless I just happen to know a family member, friend, or colleague who might be interested in reading one of my Kindle editions. Also, there is no currency or system of credit that makes it easy for me to borrow etexts as well as lend them.
There may be several lessons here for librarians. First, as markets emerge, we need to jump in with both feet. It often doesn’t take many resources to jump into a nascent market, but it does take constant environmental scanning and the ability to understand emerging markets and the user preferences and needs behind those emerging markets. Second, we should not dismiss or ignore peer-to-peer and small group lending (and reading) activities in the emerging eReading era. I’m not an historian of public library developing in the U.S. and abroad, but isn’t that the basic insight and leap of faith made by Ben Franklin and other early proponents of public libraries? They developed and saw the benefits of peer-to-peer lending of printed books and subscription libraries, then decided to make the leap to libraries available to the public.