Kindle Allows Readers to Lend Their Books

One of the complaints I hear a lot from people who are resistant to the Kindle is that they can't borrow or lend the books they buy.  It looks like that's about to change:  Amazon is now enabling lending, albeit with some restrictions:


The capability, which will be introduced later this year, will let buyers of Kindle e-books lend their Amazon e-book purchases just once, for a period of 14 days. (And just like an old-fashioned book, the lender cannot read their own book while it is virtually in the hands of a friend.) Sharing will work for both Kindle device owners and users of Kindle apps on other gadgets, like the iPad and iPhone. There's a catch. Not all of the company's 720,000 e-books will be lendable. "This is solely up to the publisher or rights holder, who determines which titles are enabled for lending," said Amazon in its announcement.

I doubt that this is the final form that lending will take; new features like this are usually amended through a series of expansions and contractions before they settle into a stable set of rules.

It's interesting to think through what this means.  On the one hand, this will cut into sales a little bit--now two readers can enjoy each ebook, rather than one.  On the other hand, the ability to lend vastly increases the network effects of e-readers--and Amazon, with the biggest selling model, is likely to benefit from this the most.  Moreover, by breaking down one of the major objections to buying, this may encourage a wider audience to finally invest.

I'd expect to see some changes to support this:  library licenses with special borrowing privileges, perhaps, while publishers withhold borrowing rights on hot new releases.

The thing I'd like most--though I admit this is highly unlikely--is the ability to give away one's Kindle books permanently, with one's notes in the margins.  One could envision centuries old ebooks with talmudic collections of notes--with the price of the book rising according to the quality of previous owners.  I don't say this is very likely, mind you.  But it would be very neat.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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