Kindle Book Lending – Some Thoughts

One of the more eagerly awaited Kindle features lately has been book lending.  While lending was announced a while go, of course, it’s only just been turned on.  Guess what?  It works!  There’s still some question, however, as to how much good this is going to do for people in the long run, or the short run for that matter.

The Nook has had its lending feature available pretty much from the start, of course.  A lot of people have held it up for quite some time as a major selling point in favor of the supposed superiority of Barnes & Noble’s offering.  In practice, we’ve not noticed a whole lot of use.  The problem in both cases is the limitation of a single borrower per book purchase even on those books that offer it as an option at all.

Book lending is simply something that lends itself to the physical exchange of materials.  You take something off your shelf, hand it to somebody, and hope to get it back later on time.  Sure, you get added wear and tear that way and the possibility of never getting the book back, but that’s an accepted risk.  The point of this observation is that it is a risk taken on by the owner of the book.  Such loans aren’t considered a slight to the author or a major impediment to the success of book sales, right?  So why is it necessary, I wonder, to prevent such things from taking place in the book market of the future?

Apparently lending is one of the many things undermining the very fabric of the book production industry today.  This current state of publishing in the eBook marketplace provides us with this little bit of paranoia in addition to the already widely “loved” pricing model that puts new releases at a slightly higher price than their physical counterparts on many occasions.

It’s not all bad though.  On the plus side, many people have never really been big book lenders in the first place and may well get everything they need out of this.  Given the wonders of the internet, many people may even get a chance at books they are uncertain about buying.  Successful communities have sprung up for Nook owners allowing for exchanges between complete strangers with similar interests, and those like the GoodReads Kindle Lending Group are already finding uses for this recently activated feature.

You  can’t say this is a bad idea (the popularity of the Nook’s LendMe stuff speaks to that), it’s just not quite there yet.  The technology obviously exists to make sure that a single instance of a digitally purchased book can be restricted to one device at a time, so the first step to a larger system is taken care of.  All we need to wait for is the hopefully inevitable loosening of restrictions on text lending once companies realize how little good it’s doing to keep a tight hold on them.  I like that the feature is there, but until more is done with it, I can’t help but view it as basically a trial run for a much more useful potential Kindle feature further down the line.