Library Books and the Kindle, What’s the Deal?

When the Kindle vs Nook competition began, a lot of those of us who take an interest in such things were making a fairly big deal about the advantages of the Nook’s EPUB compatibility.  This remains an advantage for the Nook and any number of other eBook readers to this day, oddly enough.  This, when it comes down to it, is really what’s behind the inability of the Kindle to pick up books at your local library.

Most of you will know what I’m talking about.  For those who don’t, here’s the basic situation as I understand it.  The standard in eBooks is currently the EPUB.  What Amazon is using for their Kindle platform is a variation on the Mobipocket format which is basically the generation previous to that.  For whatever reason, some people think it’s because it keeps the Kindle platform the focus of Kindle devices and software rather than give up any potential control over distribution, the most up to date distribution systems just don’t quite click with Amazon.   Sadly, these are the very systems in place for libraries around the country to take advantage of!

Library services, for example Media on Demand, tend to use Overdrive Inc’s software.  It’s a way to distribute their books in EPUB format, using the Adobe Digital Editions DRM (which is distinct from Amazon’s proprietary right’s management methods), in order to give people copies of eBooks that will become unusable after a set period of time. It’s a neat concept, since it allows for a single “copy” of an eBook to be sent to people without the usual risk of unauthorized copies.  It’s understandable that publishers would be somewhat concerned about that, since there’s nothing to stop people from just holding on to the files themselves, but libraries are awesome and should be supported even as the digital text option takes off.

So, for the moment, Kindle owners are still stuck waiting on the sidelines when it comes to borrowing books from libraries.  Not really surprising since we’ve only in the past month or so seen the activation of even single lending enabled Kindle Editions of books, but still more than a little disappointing for new owners who want to get the most out of their purchase or gift acquisition.

Is there hope for the future?  Of course!  Look forward to new and interesting options when it comes to book borrowing.  Eventually, somebody will figure out a good way to get the ball rolling.  In the meantime, it’s probably helpful to keep in mind that many libraries will offer at least some of their books in PDF format, or at least help walk you through the process of grabbing some public domain titles to put onto your Kindle if you’re not confident doing so on your own.  While PDF documents don’t like quite as good on the eReader display as the newer formats do, they’re still quite readable and there’s a lot out there to hold you over.  No need to be too horribly jealous of all those Nook and Kobo owners. If all else fails, check out the Kindle Lending Club I mentioned in an earlier post.  It hasn’t been going for long enough to have a great impression about reliability, but some option is better than none!

9 thoughts on “Library Books and the Kindle, What’s the Deal?

  1. The kindle lending club is very reliable. I have lent about 6 books out and I have borrowed about 5 myself. You have such sour grapes about the Kindle

  2. The last two posts on my blog are about this issue. You’ve said basically the same thing that I did. Since Amazon is using their own separate ebook format and delivery system, it’s not compatible with everyone else, including libraries. Everyone seems to like to jump in and say “yes but you can lend books now” but that has nothing to do with it.

  3. In response to jmmhooper,

    I can’t say that I have sour grapes about it. Personally, I think it’s the best option on the market right now. The topic doesn’t even affect me terribly much, not being a big book lending person on either the lending or recieving side to begin with. I just think it’s a necessary change that Amazon, or somebody, will have to make to their platform in time. The current restrictions are simply silly.

  4. The solutions to using library books (or any other ePub DRM books) on the Kindle are well known and easily found. This is yet one more example of DRM getting in the way of actually reading the books you’ve bought or borrowed from the library on the device of your choice.

  5. a slightly more technical note on the formats
    the version of mobipocket used by Amazon is BASED on mobipocket but slightly modified, making it completely proprietary, and a pain in the but to work with (just ask the Calibre developers)

    Epub is an open standard, everyone knows how it works, inside & out, it’s also very very flexible and in large part based on xml

    this makes it very very easy to work with, but almost prevents Amazon from being able to use DRM on it the way they want.

    checking the mobiread forums and the calibre development section can yeild a LOT of technical info about the formats for those who are interested

  6. A few things

    1) kindle has another OS that allows epub support (doukan) yeah at first it was hard but the english one isn’t that bad

    2) since there is demand it is not that hard to strip drm off. I don’t condon the practice but it does exist.

    3) like any other form of files books are starting to be traded. The file sizes are so small when put against music and movies that one could easily attach a book in an email.
    knowing 1 and 2 it isn’t that hard to see that even if someone combines it with 3 then it’s game over.

    There’s so much free ebook content out there that libraries are growing irrelavant.

  7. Skip the library. Get six friends to buy a Kindle on the same account and they can buy $9.95 books for $1.50 each or continue to buy individually for full kindle price. At this price you can not even afford to drive to the library.

  8. Don Holmes, “Skipping the library” is all well and good for those of us who can afford to buy books and ebook readers. For the many readers out there, however, who cannot afford to buy a book (e or otherwise) or an ebook reader it’s another story. Libraries exist to allow free access to information for all people (one of America’s best ideas, in my opinion, even better than National Parks). Amazon’s refusal to participate (all other e-book readers are participating) in this worthy institution and their desire to completely control published content may well shift the imbalance between haves and have nots significantly in this country.

    Nedm, although many public domain books are available for free, almost none of the major publisher’s current output is available for free legally. If we are going to preserve access to information–not to mention the other important issues mentioned in the article (censorship, archiving published works, etc) a balance needs to be found. I hate to think of a world where access to reading is predicated on your ability to buy the latest gadget and then pay amazon for the right to access any of it.

  9. P.S–just read two articles on the kindle and libraries and mixed up which info was in what article–censorship (amazon owns the content, and can update it, or change it at anytime–you don’t own it) and archiving published works, I do realize were not mentioned in this article–but are important issues to consider.

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