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.

Margaret Atwood on the State of Publishing

Brilliant, funny, insightful treatment of what changing publishing technologies mean to authors. My favorite quote so far: “Every tool has three sides: the sharp side, the dull side, and the stupid side—the side that has consequences you didn’t intend.” The illustrations are hilarious.

From the O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing conference 2011.

Ion Audio Invents the Missing Link

A stack of the iPods I now own... included are...

Image via Wikipedia

Thanks to the clever folks over at Windows Secrets, I’ve just found the missing link in the e-book/e-reader revolution.

One thing that fueled sales of the iPod, apart from the convenience of buying songs from the iTunes store, was the comparative ease of transferring your existing music collection onto this little electronic device. By the time the iPod hit the market, music was already digital. You could stick your CDs into your computer and “rip” the music from them into MP3 format in a matter of minutes. There was no need to go out and buy music you already owned in the new format.

With books, we haven’t had that option. If you get a Kindle or a Nook or an iPad to read books on, you’ll do fairly well with regard to new books, since the price of a new Kindle or iBook is less than that of a new hardcover, and many authors like J. A. Konrath make Kindle versions of their books available for less than the cost of a mass-market paperback. (Why not, when he’s keeping 70% of the retail price and thus earning more than he would on a print hardcover?)

But even after many rounds of giving books away, and selling them, I own hundreds of books. Novels by favorite authors, that I re-read about once a year. Professional reference books for my current career. Professional reference books from my previous career. Coffee table books (though I have no coffee table) with gorgeous photographs from museum exhibits or places I’ve traveled. The novels and some of the current reference books, at least, I would like to have on an e-reader if I owned one. (Books with photos would work well on the iPad, not as well on the monochrome versions of the Nook or Kindle.)

Am I going to buy 500 books all over again at $9.99 a pop? Not too likely. Especially if I don’t really own the electronic version, which one doesn’t with the Kindle.

But it’s no mean feat to “rip” my paper books onto an e-reader. It would be an enormously tedious process with my current scanner. It’s not as though I could stuff a paperback through the  sheet feeder.

Ion Audio demonstrated a device at CES that begins, at least, to address this problem. They call it the Book Saver, and it’s meant to scan books quickly without destroying them.


With the growing popularity of e-readers and digital books, ION has created the fastest and most convenient system for transferring novels, textbooks and periodicals to the digital realm. Book Saver allows everyone to easily transfer their favorite stories directly to a convenient SD cards. Once converted, the books can be quickly transferred to a computer or e-reader. Book Saver is the only device needed to quickly make all your books, comics, magazines or other documents e-reader compatible.

Book Saver has two cameras that take separate images in rapid succession of each page within an open book. You can scan 200 pages in less than 15 minutes! Book Saver’s cradle, where the book is placed during the scanning process, is also angled as to not require you to hold pages down to get a flat, even surface. While similar devices require up to seven seconds per one page, Book Saver takes only one second per two pages!

That’s pretty impressive, though it would still be quite a job to scan even my collection of novels. But if I didn’t need to do them all at once, it could be workable. Scan a handful of books before a trip, or take an hour or two every week until they’re done.

According to USA Today, Ion expects to price the BookSaver at $189, which is pretty reasonable, though there’s no price listed on the site.  The BookSaver won’t be available until later this year.

If it takes off, we can probably expect to see other manufacturers produce similar devices, and even some improvement in the technology. Book publishers will likely wail about piracy, but they already do that, and books were  pirated before the Kindle was a gleam in the eye of Jeff Bezos. There’s a sound legitimate use for the BookSaver, and it could boost sales of e-readers among some of the biggest book buyers in the world.

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Writing and Publishing News for September 29th through October 8th

Here’s what I’ve tagged for September 29th through October 8th:

Writing and Publishing News for September 11th through September 20th

Here’s what I’ve tagged for September 11th through September 20th:

Do Self-Publishing and eBooks Demonstrate Viability?

Yesterday morning Donna Papacosta interviewed me about ghostwriting for her Trafcom News Podcast. (I’ll post a link directly to the show when it goes up.) Before we recorded, she asked her Twitter followers whether they had any questions for me. This question came in from MJ McConnell just after we finished recording:

Here is my question for Sallie: does she recommend that a first-time author self-publish or produce an eBook to establish themselves as viable (assuming the expertise comes from field work/client case studies)?

It depends.

Okay, yes, that is the standard consultant’s cop-out answer. But it’s true.

If you produce a sloppy, unprofessional eBook and it doesn’t sell—or you can’t even give it away to large numbers of people—that’s going to demonstrate the opposite of viability to publishers you might approach with your next project. The same goes double for a self-published print book. (You can get away with fairly minimal formatting and design if you produce a Kindle version of a text-only eBook, though the book still needs to have good structure, flow, audience-appropriate material, an engaging style, and of course be grammatically correct with correct spelling and punctuation.)

What’s going to establish your viability as an author is selling books. That means having the things that publishers look for in their authors: both a willingness to market and an existing audience to market to. Do you have a mailing list (online or off)? How about blog subscribers? Podcast listeners? Twitter followers? Facebook fans? LinkedIn connections? Do you do regular speaking? What about corporate clients who could buy the book in bulk? If you don’t have any of these things, then just self-publishing a book, even a quality book that you’ve taken time over and hired professionals to help you with, won’t automatically generate readers and buyers.

Producing an eBook rather than a paper book (sometimes known as a pBook or even a “tree book”) may give you an edge in sales, because you can set a low price point and encourage impulse buyers. Your royalty may still be equal or greater to what you get on the print book because of lower production costs. (Note that there are still production costs for eBooks, though it’s comparatively easy to make a readable EPUB or Kindle version of a book that’s just text, and much harder to do illustrations, diagrams, equations, etc.) Thriller writer J.A. Konrath is an expert at this, but he had built up a substantial fan base before he made his big push into low-priced Kindle books.

So first, you need a platform—that existing fan base you can market to. Once you have that, you need to decide what your goal is and whether you’re in a position to hire the editor, book designer, cover artist, proofreader, and other staff to create a professional book, then arrange for your printing and distribution, and then fire up your marketing machine. (And you do need a good cover for an eBook, even if you don’t always need quite as much interior design work.) If you aren’t, then you’re going to be better off crafting a good book proposal and approaching agents and publishers.

Selling will still be your job, but at least with a publisher the production end will get taken care of.

Writing and Publishing News for August 31st through September 1st

Here’s what I’ve tagged for August 31st through September 1st: