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.”