Being off the beaten track last week without a mobile phone or network signal I missed the debate on twitter and then on various blogs about Kindles and libraries. Catching up this week on the debate particularly with the blog posts by Ian Clark and Simon Barron it struck me as interesting that both identified the ease of use of the Amazon device and the ethical dimension of a ‘locked-in’, proprietary format and potentially monopolistic model as key aspects, despite having different views on whether to buy or not to buy a Kindle.
As someone who has bought a Kindle, uses it regularly and who wasn’t persuaded to buy an ebook reader until Kindles became established, then I’m probably one who has been convinced that the convenience of Kindles, particularly the ability to read your ebooks on a range of different devices outweighs reservations about the proprietary format. It isn’t just the quality of the ebook reading experience that sells the Kindle but it is the infrastructure that can deliver your content to whatever device you choose (and then to any of your other devices as well) with a minimum of effort. And that convenience hides the dimension that your purchases are effectively stored ‘in the cloud’ and under the control of Amazon, that you licence those books, rather than own them, and are going to be pretty much exclusively buying your books from Amazon.
What does strike me is that it is perfectly possible with tools like Calibre to convert ebooks into a format that can be used by your Kindle (or other ebook readers) so you aren’t in theory locked into having to buy from Amazon. WH Smith/Kobo suggest you can load them through PDF format as suggested here http://www.whsmith.co.uk/support/HelpeBookFAQs.aspx#FAQ2.1. But there are likely to be DRM (Digital Rights Management) restrictions to prevent you converting ebooks bought in epub format into Amazon’s AZW format or vice versa. [It’s something I need to check out to see how practical it is to try to get ebooks from Waterstones or WH Smith/Kobo onto the Kindle]. And that makes me wonder a little bit whether Amazon restricting themselves to a proprietary format now other ebook providers are starting to get going with their own delivery mechanisms is actually going to mean that Amazon miss out on the potential of people buying ebooks from Amazon to load onto Kobo or other ebook readers. And if Amazon see themselves as a content provider, then wouldn’t they want to sell their content as widely as possible?
Amazon Lending Library
Having just caught up with the debate on Kindles and libraries it was ironic to see this week’s announcement of the Amazon Kindle Owners Lending Library. The immediate reaction seemed to be that it was an potential threat to libraries, but I’m not so sure. The deal (on available in the US initially) is that it is available to people who sign up to the Amazon Prime subscription service at a cost of $79 a year, you can borrow one free book a month, from a list of ‘over’ 5,000 (which implies to me more than 5,000 but less than the next significant number) and includes “100 current and former New York Times Bestsellers”. Hm… so that’s at least 4,900 that haven’t ever been in the New York Times Bestsellers list? So maybe not many well-known titles. It will be interesting to see if it gets introduced in the UK and what the list of titles might be. But unless the list grows significantly the Amazon Owners Lending Library sounds much more like a small incentive to sign up to Amazon Prime. Now 5,000 titles might be small, and it might not be packed full of bestsellers but if you look at the public library offering of ebooks through services like Overdrive then 2,500 titles isn’t unusual for a public library ebook and audiobook download service.
So if you’re in the US you can use Overdrive to borrow from the public library and read them on your Kindle or borrow them through the new Amazon Kindle Owners Lending Library. It will be interesting to see if there is any impact in US public libraries and if these features will get introduced into the UK at any stage.