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February 2012
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Amazon Kindle Borrowing Scares Penguin Away From Helping Libraries

Obviously there has often been a bit of strain in the relationship between publishers and libraries, much of the time with arguments along the same lines as those currently used against media piracy, but eBooks have been an especially touchy issue.  To illustrate how serious they are about disliking eBooks in general and the Kindle in particular, with regard to lending at least, Penguin has chosen to abandon eBook availability in libraries entirely for the time being.  This is hardly the first time a major publisher or even Penguin in particular has reacted publicly against eBook lending, but it could be the first time there was anything resembling a sane rationale behind it.

At the moment, the vast majority of libraries in the US offer any eBooks they have available to borrow using the OverDrive service.  As essentially the only major platform that libraries have the option of using, pulling out of OverDrive means pulling out of libraries.  Unfortunately, publishers see the partnership that this service has developed with Amazon to provide Kindle compatibility as being damaging.  Currently when a Kindle owner wants to borrow a library book, they pass through Amazon’s web page.  This allows the retailer an opportunity to offer suggestions or advertisements and thereby potentially monetize library lending.  There is ample evidence that publishers really dislike Amazon and the Kindle platform in general already, and this extra bit of opportunity is even more of a problem than the already distasteful fact that libraries let people read without spending money.

Sadly, this could spur some of the competition for OverDrive into a more prominent position.  3M, for example, is working on ways to take a part of that market for themselves with a new service by giving publishers more of what they want in terms of control.  What do publishers want?  Mostly they want things complicated.  An oft-expressed complaint about eBook lending is that it is too fluid.  Borrowers should be required, they maintain, to be at the library when they borrow at the very least and even that is a minimum standard.  As much friction as possible is desired so that eBooks do not become more convenient than paper books.  The 3M example is particularly relevant since they are discussing offering kiosks that users would be required to use any time they want to borrow an eBook.  While it defeats the point for many people, these publishers would generally prefer them not to borrow in the first place anyway.

Now, pulling out of OverDrive over Amazon’s sales opportunities makes sense in a few ways given the concern about the company’s increasing influence and the fact that other OverDrive partners don’t have similar options.  By offering no alternatives and openly embracing a philosophy of obstruction regarding eReading as a whole, however, Penguin is sending a message to their customers that they just don’t care who gets hurt by their sluggish reaction to new media.  They want to drive people away from the Kindle by making life harder for Kindle users, but really this just damages their own position.  Making a move like this without offering libraries other options was at best premature.

2 comments to Amazon Kindle Borrowing Scares Penguin Away From Helping Libraries

  • Lorraine

    Amazon, unlike all the other ebook providers that use OverDrive, made it extremely easy to checkout ebooks for your Kindle. It’s a far superior methods than having to use a computer to download and install extra software.

    Does Penguin really think readers will stop using their Kindles or buy the ebooks instead of using the library? Do they not understand library users at all? For example, my parents are heavy library users, they don’t buy books – ever. Amazon’s library solution was a great way for my parents to get and read books from the library on their Kindle where they can increase the font size. If they can’t get Penguin ebooks, if they even read any Penguin books, they will just check out the hard copy instead.

    As for me, I only get a few ebooks from the library, those that I think are too expensive to buy but that I still want to read. If they aren’t at the library. I won’t buy them, I won’t read them. I’ve only read 2 physical books in the 2+ years I’ve had my Kindle. I also have over 5,000 ebooks on my account thanks to indies, free books, and sales. I don’t ever need to purchase another book as long as I live.

    I know there are a lot of people who feel differently and don’t care how much they pay for ebooks. But I also know there are a lot of people like me who take advantage of indie, free, and sale books and have a price limit to what they’ll pay. There are also people who know that the books are available anyway, if you want to go the bit torrent route. I personally don’t do that, I don’t want to deal with the potential malware or virus, but there are a lot of people who will.

    The harder publishers like Penguin make it to get their books, the more people will find a way around them.

  • Elizabeth

    Publishers were complaining that readership was declining — but ereaders are now reversing that trend.

    Publishers concerned about declining sales — but ebooks are now a significant portion of their total sales. Both direct sales, indirectly through Apple, Amazon, and their own sites (like B&N), and to PUBLIC LIBRARIES.

    Now I hear that…

    Borrowers should be required, they maintain, to be at the library when they borrow at the very least and even that is a minimum standard. As much friction as possible is desired so that eBooks do not become more convenient than paper books.

    Are they totally unaware of the global trend to instant access via phones and tablets? Are they unaware of an aging population who like the adjustable font sizes ereaders provide?

    Many people use public libraries for many reasons. But what does library ebook access via Overdrive provide for those using the free Kindle app (or otherwise)? Ability to access books any time 24/7. This is great for busy families. Great for any reader with vision limitations of any degree (aging eyes or other physical conditions). Wonderful for those with transportation limitations.

    My community has a WONDERFUL public library system. However, due to budget cuts they have shortened hours and days of service. So even if the library is closed I can often find the book I need or want to read.

    I participate in a great social online community (Ravelry.com). There are a lot of ereaders and audiobook listeners who depend on their public library for many of the reasons cited above. Some live in areas where travel to a large bookstore is time and cost-prohibitive. So they can check out a book at the local library and through Overdrive to determine if it is worthy of limited funds to order a book for personal purchase.

    The more that publishers fight the losing battle over ebooks library lending –using tools like Overdrive and Kindle– the more they antagonize and lose customers.

    P.S. They are already losing customers due to agency pricing which results in ebooks costing more than paperbacks. Do they want to lose library purchasing too?

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