On the surface, Amazon’s and Barnes & Noble’s e-book loan policy seems like the ideal solution to this age-old problem. Both firms allow lending of books, so long as the publisher agrees to it. Owners may lend their digital copy, though they can only do so once and for no more than a fortnight. As with traditional books, the title is unavailable to the owner during the loan period; and the work is deleted from the borrower’s account after the 14 days. This is better than nothing, but much more could be done to ease the path to greater ebook adoption and consumption—for example, allowing owners to rent or resell their digital copies at will.
Two websites are pursuing an interesting intermediate step, inserting themselves as a cost-free broker between owners of books bought for Amazon’s Kindle reader and prospective borrowers. Book Lending set up shop in January (it initially had Kindle in its name but Amazon insisted this be removed). Lendle launched just a few weeks ago. (Barnes & Noble’s Nook reader is not supported by either for now.)
Jeff Croft, a designer and programmer who built Lendle, says the system is designed around a community of trust and tokens of exchange. “One of the things that we’ve really focused on on Lendle is to make it fair. If you don’t lend, you can’t borrow,” he explains. Neither Lendle nor Book Lender collect fees from their customers, but the two sites have links to purchase books via Amazon’s affiliate program, and get a small cut of every sale.
The links are meant merely to keep Amazon happy. In Mr Croft’s view, Lendle may help spur sales. Not everyone will have the time and dedication to read every borrowed virtual book from cover to cover in 14 days. Those who do not may wish to purchase an electronic copy. It is a similar story when readers learn that a book they are after is not available for lending now or ever.
The Economist on E-Books: "Either a Borrower or a Lender to Be"
Filed by March 7, 2011on