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Mass Hysteria in the Digital Age: LendInk, Lending, and Author’s Rights

The first DMCA notice came in almost a week ago. Then a second, and a third.

In total, we heard from about five authors who were confused about Lendle’s role in the lending process. It was clear that someone, somewhere, was talking about services like ours, with the thought that we were somehow lending actual copies of books without permission.

The first notice we received contained a reference to LendInk, so it became clear that the author had sent out multiple takedown notices.

In each case we sent out the same response, usually within minutes of receiving the notice:

Hi, [author].

We are not lendink. I’ll assume you sent this same email to lendink and that, as such, the reference to lendink here is a typo in that you simply and understandably forgot to change the email address when you sent us the same takedown notice.

With that said, we cannot agree that we are infringing on your copyright as we are simply displaying materials that are part of Amazon’s public API, operating in compliance of Amazon’s guidelines. You presumably agreed to be a part of this API when you agreed to sell your book via Amazon. If not, this is an issue you will want to take up there.

We do not sell or license or give out any content from your book. We merely display materials which are part of Amazon’s public API (title, description, cover, etc.) at which point customers are directed to Amazon to purchase a copy of your book or they are able to state that they have already purchased the book from Amazon. If a customer has paid for a copy of a book and that book comes with a lending license (a decision that is between an author/publisher and amazon) those customers are then able to use that lending license by utilizing Amazon’s lending service. We do not facilitate loans, nor do we condone or facilitate illegal sharing of books. If anything, we are driving and encouraging sales of your books through the official channel you chose to sell them.

Unfortunately, the only way we can prevent information about your book (which, incidentally, is all fair use information) from appearing on our site is if you have your book removed from Amazon’s API. This is not something we can accomplish as you control the contract you signed with Amazon.

Sincerely, 

Brian Ford

Lendle

In almost every instance, that email alone was sufficient to calm the concerns of the authors in question. In fact, one of the authors engaged in a nice back and forth about lending rights, her confusion, our service, and the role that lending might be able to play in promoting her books. 

GENESIS

Still, I was curious, and working off the hunch that LendInk was somehow at the center of the storm I discovered that dozens of authors over the course of two or three days had descended on the LendInk Facebook page to demand answers.

Many were claiming to have sent out multiple takedown notices, and threats of class action lawsuits were already being bandied about, but one thing was clear: The owner of LendInk hadn’t yet responded to any of the posts or concerns or notices — either via email or by posting an explanation on the Facebook page. 

Further digging revealed that LendInk had been running on autopilot for several months due to health issues suffered by the current owner.

Eventually, the authors focused their fire on LendInk’s hosting service and because LendInk wasn’t responding to notices, the host made the understandable decision to pull the plug.

That brings us to today.

Beyond comments on a couple of the articles that covered the takedown, we’ve been content to sit in the nosebleed section and observe.

For one thing, we suspected that the situation would blow over fairly quickly, given LendInk’s “all but officially dead” status prior to the dustup. 

Instead, the snowball is now a snowboulder, and it’s still rolling down the mountain.

TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE

CNET was one of the first major sites to take a crack at covering the controversy. The Verge weighed in. GIGAOM has a take. Even the EFF has gotten involved.

Something that I’ve been pondering is “why LendInk” when there are at least three other sites that have seen more press, are arguably more popular, and which all operate in the same manner?

I can’t speak for any other site, but I think it helped that we were very quick to respond as the notices came in. As I said in the comment I posted on the CNET article, no matter how misguided the attacks were, it can’t have been comforting to go two or three days without a response to a serious infringement concern.

I have no doubt in my mind that the vast majority of the authors who sent notices did so in good faith, even if that good faith was rooted in an easily cured misunderstanding and a subsequent rush to judgement.

I think we’ve also built up a very active userbase that would have been quick to come to our defense.

We don’t participate in every Amazon forum thread in which we’re mentioned, but we’re definitely aware that our users are actively educating authors and skeptics about the process when they talk up our service. (Thanks for that!)

If Lendle — or one of the other major lending sites — had been the focus of the controversy, the forum discussions might have been more balanced and the fallout probably would have been avoided.

The other major issue is that (most of) the media didn’t take notice until days after LendInk was shut down.

The sad truth of the matter is that the publishing industry has never seemed quite as sexy as the music industry or the movie industry, and that’s reflected in the dearth of coverage.

Unfortunately, this means mainstream media outlets and influential tech blogs tend to ignore digital lending issues unless there’s a controversy. 

It takes a lot of dedication to stay in the spotlight.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

The fallout has been nothing if not predictable: Some authors have expressed regret, others have dug in their heels — one person is even justifying the takedown of a legal site as a “warning” to actual pirate sites — and consumer outrage has led to calls for boycotts and negative reviews.

Some people are even encouraging LendInk to file lawsuits.

What good will any of that do? If consumers are angry that something like this could happen, the best possible outcome is to write rational, positive letters to Amazon (or Barnes and Noble) letting them know how awesome and useful their lending service is.  

Send that same letter to publishers even if they don’t currently support a lending program.

Most importantly, go buy a book from an author that does currently support lending.

Maybe lending programs don’t work quite as well as they could or maybe you think they should do even more. The best way to make that happen is to show authors and publishers that you’re willing to put your money where you mouth is: Apple convinced the music industry to go DRM-free only after consumers opened their wallets to support digital music. 

If LendInk is to come back — if it’s even feasible for the owner to bring LendInk back — the best possible result is that they come back to a groundswell of support for lending and a positive campaign to raise awareness about the programs offered by Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Encouraging a lawsuit without even understanding the chances of success or the costs involved is knee-jerk reactionism, at best.

Attacking authors — even those that are actively and intentionally spreading misinformation — serves no useful purpose.

Encouraging retaliatory piracy certainly isn’t going to help, either.

Revenge may sound good on paper but it’s not going to solve any problems and will likely make the situation even worse. 

We’ve spent the better part of our existence trying to raise awareness — through blog posts and tweets and responsive customer service — and we’ve done our best to talk up the benefits of social sharing when approached by concerned authors, all with the goal of creating a productive dialogue.

Clearly, there’s still work to be done.

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Today, I am going to revolutionize my industry.

Imagine what it must be like to be a prominent figure in the publishing industry, a person in a position of power, to be the guy or gal who could wake up and say:

"Today, I am going to revolutionize my industry."

That person exists. It could be John Makinson. It could be Markus Dohle. Or Brian Murray.

J.K. Rowling is doing it, but she’s limiting her revolution to the Harry Potter industry.

At any rate, it doesn’t really matter who it is: People exist who are in a position to shake things up and turn the publishing industry on its head at a pivotal moment in time.

That, to me, is the dream.

It’s one thing to ride the resurgent wave of the mobile industry in the years after the introduction of the iPhone, or the computer industry after the iPad, but imagine what it must have been like to be Steve Jobs (or to have worked for him) once it had been decided that Apple was going to disrupt the mobile and computer industries? 

No, seriously: If you’re reading this and you’re the head of a publishing house, please imagine what it would be like to make the decision to fundamentally alter the direction of your industry.

The foundation has been laid: The Kindle Fire, the iPad, the Nook Color — all of these devices are platforms for this revolution. Any one of the people I’ve listed above could approach Apple, or Amazon, and lay out a grand plan to win the day. 

What happens if Brian Murray approaches Jeff Bezos, or Tim Cook (or both) and says:

Hey, Jeff. We’re nervous as hell about this, but if we don’t move, someone else will, and we’ve got some big ideas. We’d rather be bold and first than timid and last. The writing is on the wall regarding ebooks and we want to lead the charge. I know HarperCollins has been a bit behind the times and, yes, even downright stodgy when it comes to our embrace of digital content. That ends today.

Here’s what’s on the table: We’d like to bite the bullet and sell all our content DRM-free.

Go ahead and put a digital signature on it, but that’s all we’ll require. 

Next, we want to work more closely with Amazon. We want you to build a social platform for our books and put it on every Kindle you sell. You’ve got the user data, we’ve got the books. Charge a monthly subscription and give us a 50% cut. Any user who joins that service can then share their books with other users of the service, as often as they like, with the idea that you’ll manage the transactions.

Amazon has a record of who buys what, which means we can even authenticate purchases and ensure that people aren’t lending the same book out to more than one person at a time. We can iron out the details later, but that’s the gist of it.

Give your customers a platform to talk about our books. Our goal, then, is to create an army of consumer marketers for our content.

Here’s where it gets interesting, Jeff. If a user wants to use this service to sell their copy of a book to someone else on the service — make that possible. They’ll get a small cut, you’ll get your small cut, and we’ll get our usual bigger cut. Go ahead and make the user’s cut a credit for the Kindle store, though. That way, they come back and buy more books. You’ve got some smart people at Amazon and I’m confident you can work out a way to transfer ownership to the new user. Above all else, make this easy and fun to use.

Then, if Jeff Bezos won’t play ball, or if he won’t agree to negotiate the price of ebooks in a direction more favorable to HarperCollins, Tim Cook gets the same pitch.

This isn’t beyond the realm of possibility. Both Amazon and Apple could make this happen, given the opportunity. An independent developer with sufficient funds could make it happen, for that matter.

If Amazon launches this tomorrow, HarperCollins benefits tomorrow by being first to market and first to a sensible solution for monetizing the redistribution of their content amongst customers.

At some point, seeing the error of their hesitant ways, other publishers would negotiate their way into the platform. Eventually, Apple decides they’ve got to create something similar for iOS and Barnes & Noble follows suit. 

Sadly, the fact that something is possible doesn’t mean it’s likely. This can’t happen unless Brian Murray (or whoever) wakes up with a desire to flip the script.

I have to wonder, though: In a post-PC, post-paper world, if no one seems to be waking up with that grand vision — why are these people still leaders in their industry in the first place?

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The Hunger Games: A dystopian future in which lending is no longer allowed

We’ve posted updates at the end of this post. We’re not entirely sure what’s going on with the lending status of The Hunger Games series, because it appears to be changing from minute to minute. This is where things stood when we first noticed the issue, earlier this morning:

I’ll cut straight to the chase: Amazon’s top holiday seller and Lendle’s top borrow request, The Hunger Games, is no longer lending-enabled on Amazon. Unfortunately, this means it must also appear as “not lendable” on Lendle. (It may take some time for the change to propagate.)

For whatever reason, the second book in the series, Catching Fire, is still lending-enabled. 

The third book, Mockingjay, is not.

The collected trilogy seems to retain its status as lending-enabled.

If I had to guess, these changes signal the imminent release of a movie tie-in edition of The Hunger Games. We went through this same hassle when Water for Elephants moved through a series of Kindle editions.

We’ve never really seen a particularly good explanation as to why they have to revoke the lending rights of an existing edition to move in a new edition, but then, we never get much of an explanation about anything having to do with the changes to the books we buy. 

My “new edition” theory doesn’t really explain why the first and third books have seen the change, while the second book has not. If the point of lending is to hook new readers on a series, why reserve the ability to lend for the second book in a series? If you’re going to pick and choose, why not at least choose the first book?

It’s especially frustrating to see the lending status (potentially) revoked on a book that Amazon recently touted as it’s top holiday seller. We believe that success was earned (in part) because of Scholastic’s forward thinking views on lending, not in spite of them. 

If you have questions, we suggest you contact Scholastic.

I’ve reached out to both Amazon and Scholastic. If we hear anything, we’ll update this post. 

Update: As I mention above, the status of this series seems to be in flux. As of right now, all books are listed as lending-enabled — except for Mockingjay. Here’s hoping that all of the titles revert back to lendable before the day is out. (We’re cautiously optimistic.)

Update 2: Scholastic responded to my email.

Thank you for contacting Scholastic Book Clubs. I am happy to respond to your inquiry if it is a permanent change that the Kindle version of “Hunger Games” and “Mockingjay” are no longer lending enable. [sic] I apologize for any inconvenience you have experienced. I confirmed that we don not [sic] offer eBooks on the Kindle and suggest that you contact Amazon. Again, I apologize for your disappointment.

Amazon lists Scholastic Press as the publisher for The Hunger Games. What am I missing, here? (The email I sent in was posted to a general contact form on the Scholastic website.)

Update 3: Amazon responded to my inquiry, but the response doesn’t actually address the issue, so I’m not going to bother posting their response. 

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The death of the serious reader

Jonathan Franzen, author of The Corrections and Freedom:

For serious readers, Franzen said, “a sense of permanence has always been part of the experience”. “Everything else in your life is fluid, but here is this text that doesn’t change,” he continued. “Will there still be readers 50 years from now who feel that way? Who have that hunger for something permanent and unalterable? I don’t have a crystal ball. But I do fear that it’s going to be very hard to make the world work if there’s no permanence like that. That kind of radical contingency is not compatible with a system of justice or responsible self-government.”

SOURCE

The Serious Reader — much like the Serious Music Lover and the Cinephile — is dying.

It was Colonel Ebook, on the subway, with the Kindle.

Still…

One wonders if Franzen isn’t lamenting so much the loss of the “serious reader” as the loss of the status quo: Readers who don’t actually do much reading, but who save their money for those bestsellers (cough, Freedom, cough) which pique their interest two or three times a year, because a massive marketing campaign tells them it’s time to open up their wallet and splurge on the next big thing.

That’s the sort of “serious” market which will always favor the Jonathan Franzen’s of the world. It’s not particularly condusive to the breakout author, the self-published, the diamond in the rough, or, you know, the rebirth of an industry gasping for breath.

This is the point where I planned to make some sort of “why so serious” crack about Franzen’s luddite-like views on the emerging ebook industry, but the more I think about it, the more obvious the answer becomes.

I guess I’ll skip the rhetorical question.

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Lending Rights (and Wrongs)

Given all the chatter surrounding the (now on indefinite hiatus) SOPA bill, I’ve been meaning to post something about lending rights and Kindle books. We’ve published on this topic before, but as library lending via OverDrive and Amazon’s Kindle Owners Lending Library (KOLL) — not to mention sites like Lendle — become more and more popular, we’re starting to see the discussion surrounding copyright bleed into Amazon’s forums.

The end user is finally seeing (and scrutinizing) the impact of DRM on their reading habits.

The discussion, sadly, feels pretty black or white: On the one hand, some people feel as though more books should be free, that the KOLL’s “one free book per month” (for Prime subscribers) isn’t good enough. The sentiment seems to be that publishers are being greedy: “I can read more than one book a month, so why can’t I borrow more than one?”

The other side of the coin is the argument that Amazon and publishers don’t owe anyone anything: If people want books, they should always be willing to pay for them — no matter the cost — and it’s little more than consumer greed to expect otherwise. “Free” isn’t in the publisher’s best interests, so why should they offer anything for free, let alone one book per month?

Here’s a pretty typical argument regarding the first view:

Publishers and retailers are pulling a similar switch with ebooks and hoping that nobody will notice. When you buy an ebook you don’t actually buy it the same way you buy a print book. You buy a license to read it on a certain device, or number of devices. Most of these licenses do not give readers the legal right to share their ebooks, even though people have shared print books for as long as they have existed. As a librarian it bothers me that this basic feature of print books might disappear entirely as more people read ebooks over print books. While I understand the concerns publishers have about ebook piracy, the use of DRM and the criminalizing of sharing goes to far (at the same time it is not very effective). They would never get away with trying to restrict the sharing of print books, yet somehow they have convinced readers they don’t have the right to share ebooks.

SOURCE

It’s a bit surprising to see this logic coming from a librarian. Whether you’re talking about an ebook, or a printed book, the license is pretty much the same, at least when it comes to sharing: You don’t own the content of the book you’re reading, even if you own the shell it’s printed/rendered on.

(Note that I’m limiting this analysis to the topic of sharing/lending. The right to resell used ebooks is a whole argument unto itself.)

It’s true that if you want to loan someone a printed book, you can simply hand them that book and, eventually, you either get it back, or you don’t. In any case, while the other person is reading the book, you’re not able to read it, because you don’t have it.

I like to think of this as a built-in form of rights management, inherent to the method of delivery. There’s an inconvenience factor that has, historically, obviated the need for strict oversight by the publishing industry.

The argument, then, is that there should be no DRM on Kindle books, because DRM restricts our “right” to share with others the books we’ve purchased. Moreover, it’s different than anything we’ve had to deal with before and, well, change sucks!

Two problems, here:

If you want to share a Kindle book with someone “like you’ve always shared your regular books” you can always hand that someone your Kindle. (And risk never seeing it again.) My wife (also a librarian) did just that when she loaned her Kindle to my mother-in-law last week.

I’ve yet to see someone explain why they can’t do this, just as they’ve always done, if they feel compelled to lend a Kindle book to someone they know.

In some ways, lending “the old fashioned way” with a Kindle is actually more open, because you can still read those books on a 2nd Kindle, or on an iPad, or on your computer.

More importantly, in this hypothetical, sharing a DRM-free digital file isn’t anything at all like lending someone a copy of a printed book: If I’ve got a digital file, and I “share” it with someone, I’ve still got my copy of that file. (Certainly, no one is arguing that they’d temporarily delete their own copy, in good faith?)

Meanwhile, my friend also has a copy of that file. Before long, his friend has a copy of that file. And then her friend has a copy of that file. As the original lender, nothing ever stopped me from reading my copy, nor do I risk losing my copy if my friend decides to keep his, and there’s no end to the chain.

The argument that we’ve always been able to lend our printed books as many times as we want, to whoever we want, simply doesn’t scale to digital books.

It’s easy to argue, I suppose, that this is the way it “should” be, but whether DRM exists or not, that sort of sharing isn’t legal. If all Kindle books went DRM-free tomorrow, that turn of events wouldn’t wipe out existing copyright law and you wouldn’t suddenly have the right to distribute copies of books to your friends, let alone to complete strangers.

Similarly, you can hand someone a printed book, but you can’t make a word-for-word copy of that book and give it away, or sell it. Copyright limits how we can distribute the books we buy, DRM or no.

Sans DRM, you’re not “sharing” or “lending” books — you’ve become part of a peer-to-peer distribution network, with almost no incentive for anyone to buy books.

I’d love to think that we live in a perfect world and we’d pay for all our books out of the goodness of our hearts, or maybe at the very least we’d eventually throw a few dollars toward one of our favorite authors (most likely an established name who doesn’t really need it) but let’s face it: This scenario wouldn’t be sustainable for authors below a certain threshold of popularity.

On a more personal level, the loss of DRM would also mean the loss of social sites like Lendle.

Again, DRM-free does not and would not mean “all bets are off” when it comes to copyright and sharing.

Without the inclusion of DRM on Kindle books, Lendle would be nothing more than a network for pirating ebooks, and we’d eventually suffer the same fate as the now defunct sharing site “Megaupload” if in fact we attempted to operate as a lending network in a DRM-free world.

DRM makes Lendle possible.

There’s an argument to be made that the current restrictions on ebooks go too far, or that they’re too restrictive, but it’s hard for me to envision a future in which social lending can exist without some level of restriction, at least.

It also seems absurd to ignore the obvious differences of scope between physical objects and their digital counterparts. I can’t realistically mass produce a printed copy of The Catcher in the Rye, after all.

With all that said, I can’t really agree with the argument that we should just accept whatever publishers feed us when it comes to what we can and can’t do with our digital content, either — and Lendle certainly rejects the idea that lending and/or “free” (as a promotion) is bad for publishers and authors.

The publishing industry is facing a crisis: There’s a new model crashing up against an old model, and too many are reluctant to let go of that old model. In a lot of cases, this is bolstered by the crowd that refuses to go digital because they “love the feel of a book in the hand, the crack of the spine, the smell of old paper…” 

There’s a distinct whiff of hipster pride, there — and it’s a sentiment that is disastrous for the future of the industry.

I’m convinced that “old school” crowd doesn’t read and/or buy nearly as many books as those who bought-in to Kindle because it facilitates their passion for reading, and find that having access to hundreds of books on one easy-to-carry device means that they can read more than ever before.

Reading should be about “what” you’re reading, not “how” you’re reading it, and people who genuinely love to read seem to get that.

Some people love to read, and some people love the idea of loving to read.

The former is the Lendle community, summed up. We’re not going to say that no one joins Lendle to avoid paying for books, but by and large, our active community buys more than they borrow, and they probably buy far more in any given month than most buy in an entire year.

They signed up because they love to read and, in turn, they love that Lendle provides a fun method to discover new books and authors. 

Maybe we need to rethink whether we want to identify as a “social lending” site and focus more on our strengths (and our real benefit to the publishing industry) which is that our users are, essentially, a community driven advertisement for the consumption of books.

We’re fostering a culture of reading, and that’s an endangered concept that every author and every publisher should gladly support.

Amazon is stat-happy these days, and what they’re saying has been nothing but good news for publishers who embrace lending: The Hunger Games allows for lending but it nevertheless topped Amazon’s holiday sales charts. Authors who participate in Amazon’s KDP Select (which includes a lending component) saw an average sales increase of 26%.

The mounting evidence is that lending leads to sales. 

I’ve no doubt in my mind that “lending = good” is the mindset that publishers need to embrace, and soon, in order to seize the momentum of a rapidly changing business model. The fact of the matter is, those who sign up for Lendle are buying books, and they’re choosing to make the best of a limited license to share their love of books with others, when they could instead be spending time on sites like the Pirate Bay.

And, of course, they’re buying books despite the fact that lending licenses could be more consumer friendly, books (often) cost more than they’d like to spend, and in a down economy. Imagine what might happen if publishers were to go all in?

As always, consumers are looking for a convenient and fun way to do the right thing.

With millions of Kindle devices in the hands of consumers and the unfulfilled promise of a sanctioned and legal social environment, there’s billions of untapped dollars to be made from increased exposure alone, and the very best kind of advertising — enthusiastic and viral word of mouth from rabid fans — is waiting to be harnessed and focused in a positive direction.

The only buy-in is a little trust and forward thinking from some of our major publishers.

As always, if you support Lendle, please consider signing on as a Patron.

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Lendle Year in Review 2011

It’s hard to believe, but it was around this time last year that I called Jeff to pitch the idea for a social site that would allow strangers to share their ebooks with one another.

Here’s an excerpt from an email I typed up after our initial call:

Carolyn came up with an idea that I think is pretty outstanding:
Nooks have had this feature for a long time, but Kindle just added the ability to “lend” a book to a person if they have a kindle account (kindle or any device with the kindle app) so long as you know their email address.
So, fleshing her idea out a bit, you sign up, input the books you have on your kindle and then people can search for, say, “the lovely bones” and see that 10 people have it available to lend. You then send a lend request and if someone accepts, they can lend to you as per Amazon’s guidelines. People can reject a request as well. Perhaps people could make their lists public or private and share with anyone or only friends.
It’s basically a public library for kindle and nook books mixed with a peer-to-peer network.

Obviously, we later decided to focus solely on the Kindle (a decision we’ve never regretted) and, unfortunately, The Lovely Bones wasn’t then, and still isn’t, a lendable title. We had really hoped to see more publisher support in 2011, but several remain on the fence.

The idea was so simple, so obvious, that my original pitch is pretty much what we’re offering today.

We quickly discovered that we wouldn’t be alone in the social lending space. In fact, the competition we faced on day one is more or less the same competition we face today. It’s tough to build a really good social lending site!

In spite of – or maybe because of – the competition, we’ve remained true to the lending site we want to offer, resting the urge to become too gimmicky.

We love stats, and we show off as many as we can: How many copies of a given book are available (if any), how long you’re likely to wait on a lend to come through, whether a book is lendable, or not, how much it would cost to purchase a book instead of waiting to borrow, and so on.

PHASE ONE

  • We first discussed the concept of a social lending site on January 15.
  • We settled on “Lendle” as a name on January 17. (It was not a universally loved choice.)
  • We announced that Lendle was “coming soon” on January 26.
  • Testing began on January 27.
  • Beta invites went out on February 2.
  • Lendle launched to the masses on February 12.

On March 21st, we faced a minor (cough, ahem) setback when Amazon revoked our API access. Less than two months in, we were forced to shut down.

Here’s what we had to say about it: Lendle Press Release

No one wants to get shut down, even for a day, but the media attention that followed the loss of our API access is really what put us on the map.

Some of the outlets that wrote about us:

We also saw mentions on Gizmodo, The Guardian, Business Insider, The Christian Science Monitor, MSNBC, Slate, Ars Technica, GigaOM and The New York Times.

Fortunately, everything worked out for the best and we were back up and running the following day. We lost one of our best (and most requested) features – RIP, beloved book sync tool – but we gained a lot of new Lendlers. Press outlets even started referring to lending and borrowing ebooks as lendling. 

PHASE TWO

Over the next few months, we introduced several new features, including our first marquee feature: Patron accounts. A free Lendle account is pretty amazing. A $25 (one time) Patron account is an unbeatable deal. 

Read the announcement here: New features and three major giveaways

We also added the Book My Spot feature (still one of a kind in book lending), achievements, and the ability to “thank” fellow Lendlers as borrows are fulfilled.

To top it all off, we gave away a Kindle and an iPad 2!

Towards the end of May, a few of our Lendlers were featured on a CBS local news affiliate in Philadelphia: City Center Book Club Goes High Tech

And, of course, we launched Lendle’s most unique feature: It Pays to Lend

Even as we were preparing to launch, Jeff and I were talking quite a lot about a pay to lend concept. We thought it would be really cool if we could somehow pay our Lendlers for lending books, but we couldn’t really afford to do so.

Once we were finally earning a bit of consistent revenue through our Patron sign ups and the limited advertising we feature, we realized we could finally make it happen.

Whether you’re talking about Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, social networks are nothing without the backbone of a community, and that’s doubly true for lending sites: If no one lends, no one can borrow, and we’re a bust.

Lending sites have to be, in many ways, a perfectly balanced ecosystem – unless, of course, you’re happy to be a lending site in which no one ever lends any books.

Fortunately, our community of Lendlers has always been really great about fulfilling lends as quickly as possible – sometimes too fast, judging by some of the emails we get – and we wanted to put some of our revenue towards rewarding that effort.

So, we hatched a plan to pay out credits for every lend, and then $10 Amazon gift cards as those credits accumulate. No one else offers anything at all like this, to this day, and we think that’s one of the reasons Lendle has been so successful.

PHASE THREE

We launched the newest version of Lendle – the one you see when you log in today – on December 14.

Read the announcement here: Everyone? Meet everyone else.

Not only did we completely redesign the site from the ground up, we introduced Book Clubs, the best way yet to interact with other Lendlers and talk about your favorite books and authors.

We’ve got a ton of features planned for your clubs, so the best social book lending site is only going to get better over the next few months.

We also dramatically improved the speed and reliability of our search feature. (It was a long time coming.)

It’s hard to believe how far we’ve come in only a year. Publishers haven’t embraced lending anywhere near as quickly as we’d hoped, and we’re still stuck as a US-only offering, but there are millions of Kindle owners who have yet to sign up with us and we’re happy to report that awareness is increasing at a rapid pace. Over the last several weeks we’ve seen easily six times our normal rate of traffic and the market is still wide open. Every new Lendler is another book you’ll be able to borrow, a new author to discover and obsess over.

Meanwhile, Amazon has broadened its lending scope by partnering with OverDrive to offer library lending and, more recently, by announcing the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. Lending has a long way to go, but the future is bright.

STATS

  • Total books catalogued: 397,481
  • Lendable: 50.9%
  • Loans to date: 50,500
  • Unique titles available to borrow: 19,615
  • Total copies available to borrow: 162,168
  • Gift cards paid out since June: Over $10,000
  • Most popularly requested book: The Hunger Games (2023 requests)
  • Amazon’s most purchased Kindle book of the holiday season: The Hunger Games
  • Accounts connected via Facebook: 47.7%
  • Accounts connected via Twitter: 10.5%
  • Lendler with most books: Spec (13173)
  • Lendler with most lends: Spec (593)

Here’s hoping everyone has a happy and fruitful 2012. We can’t wait to see what happens!

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Everyone? Meet everyone else.

We went ahead and rolled out the new version of Lendle, last Thursday, and the response has been really positive, thus far. We wanted to provide a bit more detail about some of the new features, and some of what it still to come, and the thinking behind our redesign.

First and foremost, we hope everyone has noticed some speed improvements. Both the book lists (what we’re now calling carousels) and the timelines have been optimized to load faster, and with less lag. Timelines now start loading new content before you get to the end of the list, which should make for a more seamless scrolling experience. Search results should now be faster and much more accurate, as well.

Book covers are now bigger, and we’ve reintroduced Amazon’s editorial reviews. These are available by clicking on any book cover or by visiting any book detail page on Lendle. We’ve also made it easier to submit soundbites by featuring the form more prominently on book detail pages. (Don’t forget that adding soundbites is another way to earn extra borrow credits!)

BOOK CLUBS

The big new feature we’ve added is a Book Club implementation. As of right now, anyone can join an existing club, if it’s public, or request to join an existing club, if it’s private. New clubs can only be created by our Patrons. As they exist today, clubs are a great way to engage in discussions with other Lendlers. We realize that there’s a lot we can still do to make this feature even better, but we wanted to provide a playground and then add features that will fit the way you play.  

There are some obvious additions coming: Moderation tools, a notification system, and the ability to associate specific books to clubs and discussions are all around the corner. And, of course, we’ve already taken note of some excellent suggestions that we’ll likely implement. One of the groups we started, Sci-Fi and Fantasy, has already pointed us in the direction of some great books that we’d not heard of and there are also clubs centered around Christian books, Erotica books, and Young Adult books, to name just a few.

Book Clubs will evolve over time, as more and more are added. For now, we just hope everyone enjoys our first giant leap into social territory. 

MORE TO COME 

We have a few other features that we’ll be launching that didn’t quite make it into the new version of Lendle, and we’ll be taking all of your suggestions into account for overall usability improvements.  

WIN A KINDLE FIRE! 

There’s still time to refer new Lendlers for a chance to win a Kindle Fire or a Kindle Touch 3G. Get your unique referral code and tweet it, shout it, text it, email it – however you want to get it out there – and both you and the person you refer will have a shot to win! There’s no limit on entries, so the more new Lendlers you refer, the better your shot of winning.

You’ve got until the end of the month to enter and you can see all the details and contest rules over on our FAQ.

PATRONS 

Patrons remain our primary source of revenue. All the money we pay out via Amazon gift cards, the ability to keep the servers running, our giveaways – all of this is tied to the generosity of our Patrons. As more Lendlers sign up, we can afford to pay out more for lends, we can come up with new contests and, most importantly, Lendle is more likely to be around for the long haul.

We think Lendle is a great free service, unmatched by any of our competitors. We have a bigger selection of unique titles than Amazon’s Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (10,000 vs. our 14,000 – and Amazon’s newest service only allows for one lend a month!) and it’s often faster to get books through Lendle than it is via OverDrive and your local library. We also think that $25 for all of the great Patron features we offer – and all the new features you’ll automatically get as they are added in the future – is an amazing value. 

Lendle was recently the subject of a comprehensive review by the team over at the Bookwi.se blog, and we doubt there’s a better endorsement of our Patron upgrade than this:

Is Patron worth it? Yes, for Book It: Patron level is worth it for one reason, the ability to ‘book’ and not ‘reserve’ books. Everything else is nice, but extra… The ability to ‘book it’ reserves you a place in line. And once you move to the front of the line, you have to option to get the book, or wait until you are ready to read it. I currently have over 100 books ‘booked’. Many of these books are books that no member now has ready to lend. But I am booking for the point when someone joins with that book. I am essentially treating these books as a future wish-list. If I have any interest, I book a place in line and make a decision to actually read the book later.

We agree: Book My Spot is worth $25, alone. We’ve also changed up the way we display advertisements, so it’s worth noting that, as a Patron, you’ll never see any ad, anywhere on the site. These are just two of several great Patron-only features…

Support Lendle: Click here to sign up today!

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We sent this out with the Newsletter — your first full look at the new Lendle dashboard.
We’re so very close!

We sent this out with the Newsletter — your first full look at the new Lendle dashboard.

We’re so very close!

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It’s not in our DNA to give up or despair.

Startups can react to unforeseen obstacles in one of two ways:

  • Oh, S**T! How does this hurt us? or…
  • How does this help us?

Today, Amazon announced that Prime subscribers would be able to instantly borrow (with limitations) from a selection of new titles — even those on the NYT bestsellers list.

Pretty amazing.

Predictably, our inboxes are flooded with questions about how we’re reacting to the news.

First, this isn’t an unforeseen development. We’ve been hearing rumors for some time now that Amazon might do something like this and, frankly, even if we hadn’t heard rumors, we’ve known all along how lending can lead to sales, and we don’t think we’re any smarter than the folks at Amazon.

So, what’s our reaction?

We’re signing up for Amazon Prime. So should you.

More importantly, we immediately thought of several ways that this could make Lendle even better. Better for us, better for Amazon, and — most importantly — better for our Lendlers.

Fortunately, we’re built for this sort of situation. Everything we do, we do in house. That means any code we have to push out can happen relatively quickly.

We’re ready.

A month or so ago, we got in touch with Jeff Bezos, and we said:

What [we were] hoping to see, though, was news about lending rights. Specifically, any indication at all that there’s some sort of effort on Amazon’s part to convince publishers that lending can be a key component in driving ebook sales. You once said that the Barnes & Noble model was a joke — you were right — yet Amazon adopted that model for the Kindle. Since that time, publishers have been more likely to opt out than in. The big names are all but absent. The titles people want to read and share aren’t lending enabled.

Is lending still on the radar? (Specifically lending rights appended to the ebooks we purchase from Amazon. [We’re] aware that library lending via OverDrive is now a go.) Has Amazon given up on this front?

The answer we got was hopeful:

Thanks for writing about your desire to see more Kindle books eligible for lending. We know this is important to our customers, and we’ll continue to work with publishers directly and ask that they enable their content for lending on Kindle. I’ve also shared your comments with the Kindle team.

We responded with, in part:

While many of our competitors are billing themselves as ebook “rental” services — selling a service that Amazon gives away, essentially — we’ve gone to great lengths to build a service that compliments and strengthens your offering without undermining your credibility with publishers. We’ve no interest in selling access to a license you already give away; we love books, we think publishing is ripe for a sea change, and we set out to build a service that could help make the case for that change.

We can only do so much, though. Publishers need to be educated. My wife is a librarian — Lendle was her idea — so we know first hand what we’re up against. The publishing industry is protecting an old model. Change doesn’t come by sitting around and waiting for old models to die.

Recently, on Twitter, someone said that Amazon had already won — and the ever-cynical undercurrent was that this was somehow a bad thing, that Amazon was growing too large.

We disagree. We think Amazon is winning because they’re making smart moves, because they’re the best, because they’re looking out for their customers. Indeed, they’re not waiting for change, they’re moving forward with their own publishing imprints — lending enabled — and they’re using the money they make to offer innovative and forward-thinking new features.

We can relate. We’ve always said that this was about being part of an exciting new chapter in the publishing industry — the first new chapter in a long, long time.

The plot just thickened.

We think that one of the best things about being a reader, and we suspect most book lovers will agree, is spontaneous discovery. It’s finding “that book” on someone’s bookshelf and becoming obsessed with a whole new world in print. 

That sort of love translates to sales, even if it didn’t start with one. 

Lendle’s never been (primarily) about money — we just need it to survive. Still. If money were all we cared about, we’d not be giving away most of our profit in order to offer our Lendlers a way to earn Amazon gift cards by lending.

This is why our first thought wasn’t to dwell on how this could hurt us.

Instead, we realized that we offer something that Amazon does not: A growing community that is dedicated almost exclusively to spontaneous discovery.

With the new version of Lendle that is just around the corner, our community is going to become even stronger.

And, in the end, Amazon’s big announcement is all about a button. 

Which means we just need that button.

We don’t know exactly what that means, yet. But you can bet we’re on top of it.

If you’re smart, you’re signing up for Amazon prime so that you’ll be ready just as soon as we are.

The future is bright.

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Here’s another PEEEEEEEEEEEEK behind the curtain of the Lendle redesign, featuring the return of a popular feature…

Here’s another PEEEEEEEEEEEEK behind the curtain of the Lendle redesign, featuring the return of a popular feature…