At first thought, ebook lending sounded to me like a perfectly logical idea to bring public libraries into the digital age. In my mind, what was the difference in having a book or an ebook lent by a library? Well, now I am reconsidering my initial enthusiasm.
The simple reason is that it is now clear that it is not ebook lending, but it is becoming Kindle ebook lending. This is very dangerous as it is a step towards making Kindle the standard in ebooks. That would have public libraries bound to one commercial platform. There are already rumours that Amazon may do away with the .mobi portable format that can be used on Kindles. Should they be planning a proprietary format that can only used by Kindle, the future of ebooks could in serious danger of being monopolised.
Public libraries must be able to lend books, and in this case, ebooks, to all readers no matter what device they are using. In all honesty, my personal preference would be a generic ebook reader produced specifically for libraries that could use a number of ebook formats and thus be used to access a library’s full range of ebooks. The other option should be that libraries are able to lend ebooks in all popular formats for all types of e-reading devices. But neither of these options will happen because ebooks are not about the public good. They are now solely about corporate profit.
Ebook lending is now making its way out of public libraries and onto the Internet with many sites offering lending possibilities with the usual catch cry of ‘free and cheap ebooks’. A term I am becoming to dislike with a passion as its continual use is demeaning any book in ebook form.
Ebook lending is becoming the forefront of the battle between online distributors, particularly Amazon, and the major publishers. Penguin have recently announced that they are stopping all lending of their entire catalogue. This follows the dispute between the Big Six and Amazon’s inclusion of their titles without permission in Amazon’s Prime Library Lending program. Both of these events foretell a bitter battle ahead for ebook market domination.
For what it’s worth, my opinion is very simple. Ebooks are damn cheap anyway, so adding commercial lending will only decrease the price and value of ebooks even further. Isn’t one click convenience at a price less than a cup of coffee low enough already?
By the way. Can I borrow your cup of coffee when you’re finished with it?