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Amazon to offer Kindle library lending. Is there a catch?

April 20, 2011 | 12:51 pm

Kindle_april2011

Amazon announced Wednesday that it will offer library lending for Kindle ebooks. While this announcement was met with much rejoicing, it was made without many specifics. For example, the program lacks a public launch date. When, exactly, will libraries offer ebooks for the Kindle?

According to Amazon's press release, "later this year."

Other major specifics were left out of the announcement: the length of the lending period, which publishers will participate in the program, and if there will be any limit to the number of times a Kindle ebook can be checked out. All of these questions remain significant when it comes to talking about libraries and ebooks.

Yet Amazon's news, as vague as it is, seems to be a positive step for making ebooks more widely available through libraries. As our sibling Technology blog reports:

The Kindle is the most popular e-reader on the market and it's also Amazon's best-selling item, though the world's largest online retailer won't say just how many Kindles it has sold.

Amazon said its Kindle library lending will be available for all generations of Kindle e-readers and its free Kindle apps found on desktops, laptops and devices, such as many popular smartphones and tablet computers.

Yet it doesn't mean you'll be able to get, say, the latest Jodi Picoult bestseller from the library. Currently, major publishers Simon & Schuster and Macmillan do not offer ebook lending of their books. Yet it's also possible you'll run into problems trying to borrow an older ebook -- such as Neil Gaiman's "Anansi Boys," published in 2005 -- because of lending-limit restrictions. HarperCollins recently came under fire when it decided that its ebooks could only be borrowed a maximum of 26 times.

Amazon's announcement, if thin on details, is significant at the macro level: the Seattle-based company is in partnership with OverDrive, a major supplier of ebooks and other technologies to libraries. Meanwhile, Amazon has reinstated the database connections needed by Lendle, a startup company that allows Kindle ebook users to loan books to one another, indicating that Amazon is opening up the Kindle on multiple fronts to be an e-reader that can borrow and share ebooks.

While this is good news for library patrons and ebook fans, there's still one catch: you have to own a Kindle, or an e-reader with the Kindle app installed. That is, until libraries decide to start lending Kindles themselves.

RELATED:

March 7: HarperCollins' 26-checkout limit on libraries' ebooks starts today

Digital Book World: Where do libraries and ebooks meet?

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Amazon Kindle. Credit: Chris Ratcliffe / Bloomberg

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