Two Experiments in E-book Lending

One of the objections people have to e-readers like the Kindle is the restrictions the e-book format places on lending and re-selling books. While many authors and publishers might be just as happy if the used book market disappeared—particularly when they see the free review copies they sent out show up in the Amazon Marketplace—this is a legitimate objection. Digital rights management should not be so restrictive that owning a digital product is less convenient than owning a physical product. And I, for one, have discovered many favorite authors, whose books I now faithfully buy, at the public library.

So before e-readers can enjoy a majority market share, the manufacturers and the publishers have to solve the e-book lending problem.

eBookFling splash screen

Back in January, I received a pitch from Anna de Souza about eBookFling, a service that allows owners of Kindle and Nook books to swap them. eBookFling acts as a clearinghouse for the “lend to a friend” function built in to the devices. It’s a crowdsourced e-book library. The press release described it like this:

Business Model in Brief:

  1. Using a credit system as currency, the community provides a circle of eBook lending.
  2. Lenders earn 1 credit for every 5 books they list as available for lend and 1 credit earned for each successfully lent book. Borrowers create a queue of books they’d like to borrow.
  3. Lenders will be emailed or sent a text message when a Borrower selects their book and upon acceptance, they will have a set time to complete the transaction through or with eBookFling verifying the transaction and alerting the requester that their book is ready to download. The Borrower will then have one point deducted from their account which is given to the Lender to spend on a rental for him/herself.
  4. The borrower may read the book for 14 days on the device they’ve downloaded to (Kindle, Nook, Nook and Kindle apps on smart phones or apps on PC and MACs) upon which the book disappears from the borrower and is “returned” to the Lender’s device/phone/computer.

Even more interesting were the proposed talking points. Here’s the best one:


The initial reaction may be a negative. Publishers and authors will claim the lending feature is being abused and causing cannibalization of sales. Authors are already bending over backwards by giving away many of their backlist (older) books free in the Kindle & Nook stores as promotion for the author’s new release. From their perspective, now they’ll have to worry about making only half the sales on the new books too!? Plus, the 14-day lending period may be more than enough time to finish a short novelette, copy the recipes in a cookbook, or read that important chapter in a tech manual or how-to book; never needing to purchase.

It will be interesting to see whether there is, in fact, a negative reaction from publishers. We’ve already heard about HarperCollins’ daft attempt to restrict the number of times libraries can lend out e-books before they have to buy replacements. (Because the hardcover equivalent would wear out, you see. No, I am not kidding.)

But it’s ridiculous for publishers to gibber about “lost sales” from library users. The type of library user who would read the book once, return it, and have no further use for it, would never buy the book in any format. Some of us simply read too fast and too much to make it practical for us to buy all the casual fiction that passes our eyeballs.

But that’s also the kind of reader who may discover a new favorite author at the library and then buy a whole series of books—particularly on an e-reader, where they won’t take up physical space. So an attempt to interfere with eBookFling on the part of Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or any of the publishers would be decidedly short-sighted. (I know, I know—it would not be the first time.)

Open Library screnshot

Apparently the Open Library initiative from has also been around for a few months, but I just happened across the announcement today while looking up the link to their audio hosting service.

Internet Archive and Library Partners Develop Joint Collection of 80,000+ eBooks to Extend Traditional In-Library Lending Model

San Francisco, CA – Today, a group of libraries led by the Internet Archive announced a new, cooperative 80,000+ eBook lending collection of mostly 20th century books on, a site where it’s already possible to read over 1 million eBooks without restriction. During a library visit, patrons with an account can borrow any of these lendable eBooks using laptops, reading devices or library computers. This new twist on the traditional lending model could increase eBook use and revenue for publishers.


How it Works

Any account holder can borrow up to 5 eBooks at a time, for up to 2 weeks. Books can only be borrowed by one person at a time. People can choose to borrow either an in-browser version (viewed using the Internet Archive’s BookReader web application), or a PDF or ePub version, managed by the free Adobe Digital Editions software. This new technology follows the lead of the Google eBookstore, which sells books from many publishers to be read using Google’s books-in-browsers technology. Readers can use laptops, library computers and tablet devices including the iPad.

What Participating Libraries Are Saying

The reasons for joining the initiative vary from library to library. Judy Russell, Dean of University Libraries at the University of Florida, said, “We have hundreds of books that are too brittle to circulate. This digitize-and-lend system allows us to provide access to these older books without endangering the physical copy.”

Digital lending also offers wider access to one-of-a-kind or rare books on specific topics such as family histories – popular with genealogists. This pooled collection will enable libraries like the Boston Public Library and the Allen County Public Library in Indiana to share their materials with genealogists around the state, the country and the world.


Libraries interested in partnering in this program should contact: [email protected].

The announcement mentions two publishers enthusiastically participating in this program, Cursor and OR Books. I confess to not having heard of either of them, but want to applaud them both. (Cursor turns out to be a fairly new venture by Richard Nash, with a first imprint called Red Lemonade and a forthcoming “social publishing” platform; OR looks cut from the same cloth, judging by its “about us” page.) Clearly both houses see the advantages of reaching new audiences through libraries.

And the libraries themselves see a way to give new life to books that had become too fragile to loan—and which are probably out of print, so buying a new copy for circulation is no longer a possibility. Yet more books that the publishers would never be able to sell, unless they now take the digital versions and make them available by POD—in which case, the library initiative may turn into a source of new revenue.

It’s time to quit treating libraries and their patrons like freeloaders. Libraries are some of the best advocates authors and publishers could possibly have—especially as bookstores disappear.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *