After some speculation about the possibility a while back, it appears that Amazon has opened up what we can only hope is the earliest stage of its Kindle eBook Lending Library to the public. It will provide customers with a free book loan from time to time, without due date. Essentially a Netflix for Kindle Edition eBooks, available for only a select group. Sadly, this service is far more exclusive than anything else Amazon has put out to date.
Ever since the first Kindle came out, Amazon’s position on the line was that users could “Buy Once, Read Everywhere”. Overall they have done a great job of ensuring this, with apps for most any system and now the Kindle Cloud Reader which when complete will allow users to access their eBooks from any browser on any system. So far, so good. While the Kindle Owners Lending Library does not necessarily break this rule, it walks a fairly fine line. Only people who own physical Kindle eReaders and who subscribe to Amazon Prime will be able to take advantage of the new service.
True, this is not a purchase. It’s really not even an amazingly useful library yet, featuring just over 5,000 titles with none coming from the largest publishing houses. It does privilege people who use Amazon’s hardware, though, which is going to come as a bit of a shock to people who have become accustomed to receiving great Amazon service when using their Kindle for Android or Kindle for iOS apps.
What would motivate this potentially alienating move? Partly it fits in with the Kindle Fire‘s launch. Amazon is able to push their Prime service, which they are clearly hoping to catch a large number of Kindle Fire owners with, as well as offering one more reason for people to switch to a Kindle. To make a broad generalization, it is fairly safe to assume that people who are used to doing their Kindle reading on an Android or iOS device are used to reading on back-lit LCDs, meaning that they are potential converts with the Kindle Fire’s eReading capabilities.
It is also of major importance to demonstrate to publishers who have not yet bought in to the idea that this can serve customers without devaluing the eBook image. By only offering the option to owners of Kindle eReaders, it is perhaps possible to maintain the eBook as something with more weight behind it than your average cell phone app. It’s doubtful that this can make much of an impression on companies clearly predisposed to hate the idea in the first place, but time will tell.
Despite these valid uses for the program, I think Amazon has made a mistake here. Drawing a line between Kindle owners and app users only serves to push potential customers away. Given how important Amazon is seeing their digital content distribution to be these days, that is not a smart move to make. The underlying concept is great and would be a valid way to push Amazon Prime, but as it stands this seems likely to hurt more than it helps.