May 19, 2024

Amazon Starts Lending Ebooks, but Head of ALA Says Libraries Still Offer Best Value


(This story was edited from an earlier version to correct the per capita figure supplied by Keith Fiels.)

Amazon launched today its ebook lending library. Although the new service directly competes for at least one resource that public libraries provide, the executive director of the American Library Association is confident that it does not pose a threat.

The Amazon collection, to start, is small at about 5000 titles, and access is limited to those who both own a Kindle device and also subscribe to the Amazon Prime fast shipping and video streaming service, which costs $79 a year.

“With this launch, we expect three immediate results: Kindle owners will read even more, publisher revenues will grow, and authors will see larger royalty checks,” said Russ Grandinetti, vice president, Kindle Content, in a company press release.

A user can borrow one book a month, with no due date, and any notes or highlights are saved even after the book is returned in case the book is later re-borrowed or purchased. When a new book is borrowed, the previously borrowed title disappears from the device.

The Amazon program is not really a threat to public libraries, according to Keith Michael Fiels, the executive director of the American Library Association.

“It’s not a surprise,” he said. “We’ve always been in a position where people who had money could go out and buy books, but a public institution that makes books available at no charge to the rest of the reading public is still going to be attractive for the majority of people who don’t have the resources,” he said.

Fiels noted that the $79 subscription for the Amazon Prime service (not to mention the cost of the ereader itself) was $40 more than the average per capita library support, based on 2009 figures.

“The fact is there is a lot of innovation going on in libraries, and libraries account for at least 10 percent of books sales in the United States,” Fiels said. “We’re an important part of the market and libraries really do fill a key role, so I think there will continue to be a very vibrant place for libraries,” he said. He also noted that any program that increases reading is a plus for libraries.

Robin Nesbitt, the technical services director at Columbus Metropolitan Library in Ohio, said she was not too worried.

“I think it’s a natural progression for them, but we need to not fall asleep at the wheel,” Nesbitt said. “Libraries have to continue to raise their voice and say that we need to be in this marketplace. We don’t want to cede everything to Amazon,” she said.

The Amazon launch comes only 12 days before Amazon is scheduled to begin shipping its new $199 Kindle Fire tablet. The new program may help drive sales for the tablet since it will not make titles accessible via apps on other devices, such as Apple’s iPad which is a direct competitor to the Kindle Fire.

A single book can be read on any number of Kindle devices, as long as they are registered to the same eligible account.

The program further expands Amazon’s footprint in the library world since it began a partnership on September 21 with OverDrive, the Cleveland-based company that is the major distributor of ebooks to the library market. The deal made the Kindle ereader a compatible device for more than 11,000 U.S. public and school libraries that loan ebooks through the OverDrive network.

Amy Pawlowski, the web applications manager at the Cleveland Public Library and formerly a manager of partner services for OverDrive, said the library has seen a definite increase in ebook loans as a result.

“The Kindle downloads are very popular and we have had no support issues,” she said. This ease of use, Pawlowsk said, should help dispel any threat from the new Amazon program.

“I am honestly not worried, although I think there are librarians that will be,” she said. “The process for getting a book on a Kindle through us is just as easy, and library users are library users. I don’t think we are going to lose anyone.”

Amazon did not provide a list of publishers participating in the new program, but it said that the titles in the collection come from a range of publishers under a variety of terms:

For the vast majority of titles, Amazon has reached agreement with publishers to include titles for a fixed fee. In some cases, Amazon is purchasing a title each time it is borrowed by a reader under standard wholesale terms as a no-risk trial to demonstrate to publishers the incremental growth and revenue opportunity that this new service presents.

Among the titles being offered are Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, The Big Short and Liars’ Poker by Michael Lewis, and The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.

The Wall Street Journal reported that none of the six major U.S. publishing houses are participating.

“We’re excited about any program that helps readers discover our authors and their books,” said David Nussbaum, CEO and chairman of F+W Media Inc. “We think this will lead to more people reading F+W’s books, and more profit for our authors.”

Photo: Kindle 3 by Zhao! Attribution-NonCommercial License

Michael Kelley About Michael Kelley

Michael Kelley is the former Editor-in-Chief, Library Journal.


  1. This is a total non-event. 1 book per month limit? That’s not exactly an encouragement. The cost is not insignificant either – it may be an additional bonus to people who already have Prime, but I can’t imagine anyone buying into the service to get this dubious benefit.

  2. $19 is NOT the average per capita library support from any data I’ve looked at. I would love to see this source data.

    $79/year is actually cheaper than SFPL spends per capita. So, in San Fran- right now as of today, it might be cheaper to buy every person a kindle and a prime membership- maybe even internet access- than it would be to fund their library system.

    This SHOULD be a wakeup call. It’s only going to get better from Amazon. I wish I could say I think libraries are going to keep up the pace.

  3. While the new book lending service from Amazon may leave alot to be desired in terms of content, length of loan etc, I would not dismiss it as if it did not matter. It is a start, a beginning, a trend, a potential. Will libraries just sit here and say oh, non-event, no threat. Hmm…wake up tomorrow and you may think otherwise. It is one more way people can borrow books without the library.

    • YES! What happens when Barnes and Noble starts doing the same with the Nook- partnering with Netflix or Youtube for content? Spotify will work on the Fire and other tablets.

      Those who dismiss this show a shortsightedness that does the profession a major disservice.

  4. can you show that you’ve edited the story so my post doesn’t make me look like I’m bad at math please.

  5. This story was edited from an earlier version to correct the per capita figure supplied by Keith Fiels.—Ed.

  6. Isnt this exactly what Republicans and Libertairans want? I mean how many rich people never read books yet pay taxes for poor people to read those books for free! If books want to be read then by god the people that read them should pay to read them and not take a good god fearing rich Republicans money to do so!!!!

  7. This is only Day One (or maybe Two) of Amazon’s move into eBook lending, and it shows in the paucity of its offering (though it came out of the gate with five times the titles available from my state’s Overdrive-managed public library consortium). As it succeeds, as I am sure it will, it will expand its titles and supported devices and, if it can develop a sane remittance model for the publishers, it could well take command of the eBook lending landscape. This will render public libraries irrelevant for many of those middle-class people whose support they depend on. As for the poor–well, who cares about the poor in this country or, for that matter, the importance of a public library system in supporting and maintaining an egalitarian democracy.

    I fear perilous times are ahead for libraries. I have treated this subject at more length on my blog, at, were I offer my own Modest Proposal for a solution to this threat.

  8. Janet Anderson says:

    “A single book can be read on any number of Kindle devices, as long as they are registered to the same eligible account.”

    A single book can be read on a MAXIMUM of 5 Kindle devices, as long as they are registered to the same eligible account.