A few weeks ago, we mentioned that we’d reached out to two of our competitors — ebookfling and booklending — hoping to present something of a united front when approaching Amazon and publishers about ebooks and lending.
All of this, of course, is driven by our desire to spur innovation in the publishing industry as ebooks become more and more popular. First and foremost, the adoption of lending rights is progressing at a snail’s pace, at best, but even beyond lending there are a lot of opportunities for anyone willing to make some fairly obvious moves.
With all that in mind, we thought it would be nice to drop an update, just to let everyone know that we’re still working behind the scenes to create a dialogue. At this stage, we’ve drafted letters that we’ll be sending to Amazon and various publishing houses.
Meanwhile, we’ve been in contact with ebookfling’s George Burke, who shares many of our goals. He’s agreed to work together, to the extent that we can, so we’re excited to have the ebookfling team on board.
We’ll update with any new information, as we get it.
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christiansaywhat asked: Can you explain the Lendle Stats, specifically the "spots in line booked" number? What does that mean? Is that the patron feature where they can hold their place in line?
That’s pretty much it, but when you say “hold their place in line”, that’s not quite right:
That’s how many Patrons have used our “Book My Spot” feature for a given book. Doing so essentially puts the person in the queue in the usual manner: If there are nine other requests, they’ll be tenth in the queue and even though they haven’t formally requested the book, they’ll move up as lends are fulfilled.
Once they get to the number one position, they’ll hold that spot until they’re ready to put in a formal request. Meanwhile, everyone else will simply leap-frog that person until they do.
The benefit, of course, is that a Patron can then book a spot in line for any number of books. This way, they’re still in the queue, they just don’t see requests fulfilled until they’re ready.
Earlier today, we received an email from a Lendler / Amanda Hocking fan, letting us know that there is an issue with Hocking’s book, Switched:
You may or may not be aware of this situation, seeing as how I always see this set of books being added to the site frequently. Actually, I am seeing that you do know about this situation after looking at the “available now” section. Anyway, I have someone wanting to borrow “Switched” by Amanda Hocking from me. Trying to lend and it will not work. I originally borrowed two of this series through lendle (yay), but after reading an article on the author’s blog last week, I went ahead and purchased the two that I had lent, in case I wanted read them again and the new books will be at a higher price. She is planning on unpublishing the series from Amazon and re-releasing through her publisher in a few months.
The pertinent bit from the Amanda Hocking blog post:
Which brings me to the next point. As of August 1, 2011 I’m going to be unpublishing Switched. The release date for the St. Martin’s edition of Switched is set for January 2012, and we (both me and the publisher) want that to have the most success it can, so we want to give Switched some time off the market.
I’m leaving both Torn and Ascend for sale until September 1, 2011 when I’ll be unpublishing them both. I’m leaving for sale longer, so people who buy Switched now have a full month to purchase the other two books in their current state at their current price.
The upshot to all this is that anyone who bought (or buys) these books will no longer be able to lend them, once they’re nuked from Amazon’s catalogue. It simply won’t be possible. We think that’s a bit rotten, but it’s happening.
We reached out to Hocking, via Twitter, and she was kind enough to respond:
I didn’t know this would happen until after I did it. But that should be taken up wit Amazon. I think it should still be lendable PERMALINK
We agree, of course. Unfortunately, or predictably, when situations like this arise, Amazon’s stock answer is to lay blame at the feet of publishers. This leaves readers stuck in the middle of a finger pointing contest that rarely, if ever, leads to straight answers. Indeed, when we asked an Amazon CSR about the status of purged books, we were incorrectly told that they were still lendable. We’ve since confirmed that this isn’t so.
At any rate, Amazon is far more likely to listen to Amanda Hocking, successful novelist, than to Lendle, lovable lending site. Given that she believes her book should still be lendable, it seems as though it’s her responsibility to ask why it’s not — especially given that it’s her legion of loyal fans that is now left in the lurch.
Looking toward the future, we’ve followed up with Hocking in an effort to find out if the new editions of her books will be lending-enabled. Given that she’s signed with St. Martin’s Press, a Macmillan imprint, this seems unlikely — though we’re hoping our cynicism is unwarranted.
If it’s not, this would be a bit of a change of pace for Hocking, whose success has been based largely on the word-of-mouth of her fans, and the devoted following it has engendered. It’ll be a shame if she’s forced to offer a less-compelling product based on a new publishing arrangement.
It should be said that we’ve got nothing but respect for any author who can do what Hocking has done, and we certainly don’t begrudge her the decision to “go pro” — we sincerely hope she finds even more success now that she’s earned the backing of a major publisher. If her fans love her books, we think that means they’re worth more than the $0.99 she’s been charging, and that she’s earned the right to ask for more without being criticized.
Still, we definitely hope she’ll have more of an influence on St. Martin’s Press and Macmillan than they’ll have on her. They could learn a lot from Hocking’s early successes, so hopefully they’re paying attention and not just cashing in on an underdog story.
They could learn a lot from us, as well: We found out about all of this from a Lendler who only bought Amanda Hocking’s books after borrowing them through our service. She read them, liked them, and was nevertheless willing to pay for them. That’s Neil Gaiman’s vision, and it’s a success strategy that’s been proven out time and again in other industries. What’s so hard to understand about that?
Ending on the bright(er) side:
Also because I did this, Switched will be more readily available in libraries, so it will actually be more lendable in the future PERMALINK
That’s something, anyway.
The sudden removal of the “Kindle Store” button in Amazon’s iOS Kindle app is getting a surprising amount of coverage, given that Apple issued the infamous “our way or the highway” ultimatum months ago. Still, the reminder that such a button once existed prompted us to ask the following question on Twitter:
iOS Kindle users: How often do (did) you actually click the “buy” link to get to the Kindle store, anyway?
We’re certainly not going to argue that the response is scientific, or even statistically telling, but it does support our general hunch — and our own usage patterns — which is that not many people were actually making use of the button even when it was available:
Never. Normal for me: find a book on amazon.com, send sample to my Kindle 2, then (maybe) buy book from there. Add to iOS later.
I’ve never used it.
Never. I’ve also never bought a book from my Kindle. Browsing on my Mac is just a way better experience.
Maybe 20 times total in 2 years of using the app.
It never worked for me.
We did have one dissenting response:
In fairness, app store reviews for the new “buttonless” version of the iOS Kindle app are overwhelmingly negative, many falling in at one star. Given the publicity, though, that’s to be expected. App Store reviewers are a harsh mistress.
Amazon undoubtedly has click-through reports which would validate the presence of the now defunct button, assuming it was ever seeing a lot of use. Amazon didn’t put up much of a fight, though. Perhaps our hunch is correct and they can’t be bothered to defend a feature that no one was using?
SplatF’s Dan Frommer (formerly of Silicon Alley Insider) weighed in on the change:
This is a worse customer experience. Amazon’s service — and Apple’s devices — are now slightly harder and clumsier to use. And it’s Apple’s fault.
Anil Dash echoes that sentiment on Twitter:
Now that my Kindle and Kobo apps have lost their “buy” buttons, my reading experience is so much better! Thanks, Apple!
Is the experience now worse, though?
If anything, it seems inelegant to expect a user to launch the Kindle app in order to push a button which then launches Mobile Safari. Why not just launch Mobile Safari in the first place? Better yet, why not create a home screen bookmark that links directly to the Kindle Store? (Amazon even made an iOS friendly icon for this purpose.)
Kindle Store in Mobile Safari > Add to Home Screen > There is no step 3.
We dropped by a Borders this weekend. Everything! Must! Go! It’s early, so the best deals are yet to come — most likely on the worst merchandise. It was nice to see a bookstore teeming with eager customers; it’s just too bad that it takes a liquidation sale for that to happen.
Not long after Borders announced their farewell tour — apparently, they’re so undesirable they couldn’t even get a single buyout bid — the graduation goggles were donned and the eulogies were spat out in Tweet-sized soundbites:
“Oh, Borders! We’re so sad to see you go! RIP! #thankUBorders”
Ahem. Never-mind that we used to be sad to see stores like Borders driving out the smaller “Mom and Pop” bookstores. “THERE’S NO LIFE IN THESE MONSTROSITIES!” (We shopped there anyway. The selection and prices drew us in.)
Perhaps Borders is now — on its deathbed, mind you — allowed into the cool kids club (reading is cool, right?) because a new, even more damnable enemy is at hand:
The dreaded ebook!
As an ebook lending site, we often get an earful from those who just can’t quite come to terms with the rising popularity of digital books. It is, to put it mildly, eye-rollingly boorish behavior, and it’s the same basic sentiment that lamented the rise of photography, the advent of the printing press, and the growing popularity of the personal computer.
It’s the argument that going to lose.
The shockingly speedy demise of an outlet as big as Borders is a sign of things to come: In with the new, out with the old. Or, more likely, the old will live on, as the new gains slow, but inevitable, prominence.
The real problem isn’t that we’re moving on, it’s that no one will have learned the obvious (and recent) lessons from all the other times we’ve moved on: Fighting is only going to make things worse.
Print books aren’t going away. Libraries aren’t going away. The publishing industry isn’t in any real danger, beyond the self-inflicted wounds of short-sightedness.
Just as the music industry weathered the digital storm, so too will the publishing industry.
Will someone step up to embrace the digital future, or will we spend the next ten years as pawns in a losing battle against piracy? Indeed, will “piracy” be a convenient bogey-man, an overstated threat, used to buy time? Will customers be harassed in the name of the bottom line? Will publishers cite the demise of Borders as an excuse to tighten control and raise prices, spurred-on by traditionalists who want to avoid change, all at the expense of meaningful progress?
The smell of a book? The feel of a book in your hands? Meh.
Let’s be real: Consumers want access above all else. Access to the content they want to read, and they don’t give a shit if it’s somehow encumbered with DRM so long as these digital controls don’t get in the way of reading; so long as a frightened industry doesn’t over-reach, as frightened industries so often do.
Digital is an opportunity. It is not, in and of itself, better. It can be better. There’s a chance that this could be done right.
Here’s hoping the bores and the old guard don’t screw it up for everyone else — but they probably will, for far longer than necessary.
(See update below.)
Last week, we posted an article about books being deleted from Amazon’s system.
We’ve collected a few examples and, as you can see, the Amazon links for these books lead to “product not found” pages.
Water for Elephants ASIN: B004PYDO64
Another (lendable) edition of this book is still available.
Veiled Freedom ASIN: B002IUZM1C
Another (lendable) edition of this book is still available. It’s free, though, so we won’t be surprised if it eventually suffers the same fate.
Fixing Freddie ASIN: B003YL4IGY
No edition of this book is currently available in Amazon’s Kindle store.
The issue, of course, is that these books don’t seem to be lendable, even though those who bought them paid for a lending-enabled edition. As far as we can tell, the first two have been replaced by newer editions, whereas Fixing Freddie isn’t even available as a Kindle book, at this point.
We’ve never really wanted to bargain hunt for our users, primarily because we don’t think it’s in our long-term interest to point out free titles, even when they’re lendable.
First of all, doing so arguably sends a bad message to authors, and we don’t want to do that.
We’re also now learning that snapping up free books may not be a particularly wise move, if the goal is to build up a catalogue of lendable titles, on the cheap. Despite this, we’ve definitely seen other services encourage readers to snag any and all free books because — even if they’re free today — they might not be tomorrow.
Makes sense, right? A free book today is a hot lendable commodity tomorrow — when it’s no longer free.
Except, what if Amazon catches on and starts dumping all those free editions from their catalogue?
Due to the way lends are handled, if a book isn’t listed in Amazon’s system — even if it was lendable at the time of the “free” promotion — it will be impossible to ever lend that book.
We’re starting to see evidence that this may, in fact, be happening. One Lendler let us know that five books, all obtained during free promotional periods, now lead to dead product pages.
Not only is there a new edition (still lendable, fortunately) with a new price, the free edition has simply vanished.
W.P. Kinsella’s “Shoeless Joe” is a great example. Try searching for it on Lendle.
Two results come up. Attempting to buy the first result leads to a dead page on Amazon. The second result works fine. Those who own the first book can no longer lend it, either through Lendle, or through any other means.
We have to wonder if Amazon is doing this in reaction to sites which are actively encouraging thousands of users to scoop up free books? We won’t be especially surprised if it turns out they’re attempting to close off this loophole.
Those promotions are there to bring a burst of exposure to an author. They’re not there so that people can stock up on lend credits in order to borrow books which actually do cost money.
We’re certainly not saying it’s wrong to grab free books when you see them; we just want you to be aware that it’s looking more and more likely that today’s bargain may not always be tomorrow’s lendable book.
If you notice your free copy go dead, we humbly suggest buying a new edition. If you liked the book, and you want to lend it — why not reward the author with a purchase?
Over the past two or three weeks, we’ve crossed a few milestones, and we’ve had a chance to evaluate the success of two of our biggest initiatives. What’s next?
So says Wired about the news that J.K. Rowling will maintain complete control over the distribution of the Harry Potter ebooks:
The significance of the way in which these ebooks are being sold, meanwhile, cannot be overstated. Pottermore.com has allowed Rowling to neatly sidestep the middle man (Amazon), maintain complete control over pricing, scoop up nearly all the profits from royalties, and keep all the sales information and the further marketing opportunities that offers to herself. She will also more than likely do all of that at a price and quality that will leave her customers almost as delighted as her publishers (who remain on board) and her accountants. She’s even found a neat solution to the problem of copyright theft by using a digital watermarking system that links the identity of the purchaser to an individual ebook. There will be none of the sour taste and technical glitches associated with DRM software, and no punitive lawsuits – but there will be a real inducement to actually buy the book and an added element of shame for all who steal it. Wired magazine has called this “publishing’s Radiohead moment”. But it’s more than that. It’s publishing’s new Harry Potter moment. The Hogwarts’ Express money train is riding back into town.
lastcallkillit asked: When are you going to upgrade servers? I've had days where I can't access anything in your search area, and days when the server just goes around and around.
It's not my internet, I've got 20 Mb Internet, very high speed.
I think it's an amazing service - when it works.
This one is somewhat tricky to answer. Do we take speed and performance seriously? Very much so. In fact, we’re constantly working to improve performance by optimizing code and tweaking our server configurations.
We don’t actually host on a single server, though. We host on thousands of servers at an incredibly powerful datacenter. Yes, we can pay more and more and more, but that also requires us to bring in more and more and more revenue. So, it’s a bit of a balancing act for us. We’re not going to clog the site up with too many ads, or require people to pay to borrow books, even though we could probably bring in some extra revenue by doing so.
And, of course, many of our unique features — social relationships, timelines, etc. — are very CPU intensive. Going back to the balancing act, these things slow us down a bit, but they’re also why we think we’re the best lending site. Providing social features is the same reason Twitter had a rough time of it, at least until they were able to afford to pay more.
Lastly, we can’t really complain about this, but every time we are featured prominently by a major outlet, we see a massive influx of new users. On the one hand, this means more books and more lenders. On the other hand, depending on who featured us, it’s hard to keep up with such demand, from a performance standpoint.
That’s all a long way of saying that we wish it were super easy, or even feasible, to just plug in a new server and make all of our problems go away, but there are a lot of factors that make the solution less obvious.
All we can do is promise that we’re doing everything we can with what we have to make the site perform as well as our Lendlers do, and that as soon as we can do more, we will.