September 2, 2014

Penguin Drops Side Loading Requirement for Kindle Lending

In a quick reversal of its position on Kindle lending, Penguin on September 26 loosened the terms of its renewed agreement with OverDrive, announced only the day before. The publisher has agreed to allow library patrons to download ebook titles wirelessly via OverDrive’s “Get for Kindle” function instead of, as initially announced, first downloading titles to a computer, and then side-loading those titles to their Kindle classic or Paperwhite using a USB cord.

Penguin began requiring this two-step procedure in November 2011, the same month that they announced a freeze on sales of new titles to libraries. At the time, Penguin spokesperson Erica Glass released a statement to the press citing security concerns, and by February 2012, the publisher had temporarily stopped all ebook licensing to libraries. A few months later, Penguin began pilot testing a program with the 3M Cloud Library and, later, Baker & Taylor’s Axis 360 platform, both of which have now gone national. Neither platform currently supports Kindle’s dedicated ereaders.

Penguin has declined to discuss this matter in more depth, but presumably, the concerns expressed in 2011 somehow involved the way that Kindle transactions were managed by Amazon. Notably, during pilot tests and subsequent national launches of Penguin’s ebook catalog for library lending, 3M and Baker & Taylor did not face similar side-loading demands for Barnes & Noble NOOK devices. With yesterday’s decision, these concerns appear to be resolved. Amazon representatives did not immediately respond to LJ’s request for comment.

Earlier this week, OverDrive Director of Marketing David Burleigh also declined to speculate or disclose the reasons behind the side-loading issue, stating that “Permissions, terms, and usage are really in the publisher’s court. We’re playing the role of facilitator and distributor…which is an important role, but some of these decisions are out of our control.”

Easier Access, New Licensing Terms

OverDrive is currently the only library ebook distributor that enables patrons to check out books on Kindle’s dedicated ereaders (in addition to other platforms) and many librarians were pleased by Penguin’s decision to allow simplified Kindle downloading.

Sari Feldman, executive director of Ohio’s Cuyahoga County Public Library and co-chair of the American Library Association’s Digital Content and Libraries Working Group, said “We are so appreciative that Penguin continues to expand opportunities for access to digital content. Reinstating its relationship with OverDrive provides libraries with a third platform through which customers can access the quality content they seek. Now, taking this additional step of streamlining the Kindle download process, Penguin further enhances customer convenience, a critical aspect of library service.”

At Los Gatos Library in California, “we were just discussing at a meeting of staff and had assumed that Penguin would impose the Kindle [side loading] restriction, so we are relieved and somewhat pleased,” said town librarian Henry Bankhead.

Bankhead also praised Penguin’s new metered access model, stating that “it gives librarians more granular control and ability to modify their collections according to user needs. The significantly lower prices allow us to get more titles in front of readers. We can then adjust our spending according to the use of these titles.”

Titles are currently priced at levels comparable to retail for a one copy/one user license that expires after one year. Backlist ebooks range from $5.99 to $9.99, and new bestsellers priced closer to $18.

“I think [metered access] is an improvement along a path that started with the Harper Collins 26 checkouts [loan limit],” Bankhead said. “I would still like to see a model from the big five that even more closely let us pay for the books that people actually use. I think it will not be long in coming.”

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Matt Enis About Matt Enis

Matt Enis (menis@mediasourceinc.com; @matthewenis on Twitter) is Associate Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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