Amazon’s E-Book Lending Service

The Wall Street Journal has a new piece on Amazon’s e-book lending service. Operating under the Amazon’s $79/year Prime service, the e-book lending will only work on Kindle and Kindle Fire devices (not iOS friendly), and is intended to boost sales of the Kindle devices. And as you might guess, it’s not available in Canada.

The article also has an interesting portion at the end on the relationship of Amazon’s Prime lending program to its library lending program:

At the Seattle public-library system, e-book borrowing rose 32% in the month after Kindle books became available, said Seattle’s electronic-resources librarian Kirk Blankenship. E-book borrowing had typically been rising 10% or 15% a month, he said.

Mr. Blankenship said he isn’t worried about Amazon starting its own lending service.

“There’s a lot of people that can’t afford Amazon Prime,” he said. “We also want to be a resource for people looking for other things beyond the best-seller list.”

Followed by a statement from Arthur Klebanoff, chief executive of RosettaBooks LLC, on the value of making titles available via a flat fee arrangement:

“I’m attracted to the incremental promotion/visibility for participating titles,” he said. “All site promotion, especially of backlist titles, drives sales in the Kindle Store.” Mr. Klebanoff said that he’s providing about 200 titles in all.

I find the intersections between these two programs interesting on two counts:

  1. Loss leader remains a good strategy for publishers. Libraries have traditionally provided this value to the publishing industry, and it won’t disappear in e-formats.
  2. It doesn’t matter whether Amazon is providing the lending program or a library system. The ease of access to related titles, and the subsequent sales, should make publishers open their eyes to the exposure e-lending services can provide.

Now, I recognize the reduced circulation of law library titles, but that’s not much different than any other low-demand item sitting in the stacks at a public library. When Publishers need to tap into smaller audiences, gaining exposure with these readership groups is going to remain a critical challenge.

My point would be this: law library e-book lending may not only be important from an altruistic, educational standpoint – in my view, a required contribution from every publisher. But that in the future, these programs will be fundamental to connecting with readership, provide a ‘proving ground’ for secondary source materials, and will define each product’s reputation and the demand for associated products (author & subject). Publishers must figure out which products to give away, and which to sell; but the question of whether or not to participate in e-lending programs? Doesn’t seem like much of an option.

Libraries and librarians (legal or not) have a much stronger role in the book industry than most people recognize.

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