We knew when we started Lendle that there would be strong emotions arguing both sides of Amazon’s digital book lending restrictions. Black and white arguments are rarely productive (or interesting, if you ask us) and we find ourselves falling somewhere in the middle of two extremes:
- Those who insist that our service is going to destroy the livelihood of authors.
- Those who insist that buying a digital book means that the buyer should have no restrictions on lending/sharing the book.
As a lending service, we think it’s important that we share our views.
First and foremost, we will not participate in a mean-spirited or insult-laden argument. We will not accept unfair or untrue accusations about our conduct, or the conduct of those who utilize our site. We’re not interested in generalizations that impugn the integrity of those who are buying digital books and exercising their included license to lend. Personal insults, in either direction, won’t fly.
With all that said, we understand the complexity of the debate and we welcome disagreement and spirited discussion. We’re happy to be challenged.
We believe that Amazon is a company of smart, forward-thinking individuals. As such, we do not believe that digital book lending services such as Lendle were unanticipated. Furthermore, digital books which are “lending enabled” do not come with a stipulation that they must be lent to a friend, or that they cannot be lent to a stranger. We firmly believe we provide a service that is entirely legal, and well-within the boundaries of the policy set forth by Amazon.
Amazon’s current lending restrictions:
- Lending-enabled digital books can only be lent once, ever.
- Lends last 14 days, at which point they are returned to the lender, whether the borrower is finished reading the book or not.
- Lending is US-only, for now.
- Too many books simply aren’t lending-enabled. The books that are lendable often aren’t written by leading or popular authors.
We’ve said multiple times that we expect these restrictions to loosen. With regard to several of the restrictions, not only do we think they will, we think they should.
It doesn’t seem like even Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, is all that excited about Amazon’s lending restrictions:
The current thing being talked about is extremely limited. You can lend to one friend. One time. You can’t pick two friends, not even serially, so once you’ve loaned one book to one friend, that’s it. SOURCE
That comment was aimed at Barnes and Noble’s Nook, back before Amazon caved to competitive pressure by implementing the exact same “extremely limited” restrictions. With Bezos’s comment in mind, it’s difficult to see our expectations regarding the future of lending as controversial.
We think that allowing books to be lent only once is low. We don’t really know what the magic number is, but we think the discussion should start with (and balance) the desires of the customer against the need of authors to make money. On the other hand, we also believe that it’s silly to ignore the fact that there’s a major difference between paperbound books and digital editions. Yes, we’ve always been able to lend our books as often as we want, but there have also always been inherent logistical obstacles which prevented wide-scale lending.
Without the implementation of DRM, digital books aren’t hampered by those or any obstacles. If lending were allowed without restriction, there would be zero incentive for anyone to ever buy a book again, beyond a certain threshold of purchases.
We’re not opposed to responsible and fair DRM, but we do think it shouldn’t get in the way of the customer’s experience and we think less restriction is better for everyone than more. Is the right number two lends per book? Three? We’re not sure, but we don’t believe unlimited lending is reasonable. We fully stand behind the integrity of our users, and we’d never accuse them of being cheap or unwilling to pay for the books they want to read, but why would anyone pay if they had a legitimate and completely legal reason not to? We wouldn’t either.
We have no issue whatsoever with the 14-day lending policy. We think this is a reasonable amount of time and is more than enough for most books. If a person can’t read a borrowed book within the time limit and enjoys it enough to want to finish it, we think they should be willing to pay to do so. This is one of the reasons we do not allow members to borrow the same book twice.
(Does anyone think that books should be lendable to more than one person at a time? We certainly think that’s an unrealistic expectation, especially given that it’s never been possible.)
We expect the US-only restriction to be lifted.
We expect more and more books to become lendable, and we think it’s a smart business move for publishers to move in that direction.
We’ve seen some concern that services such as Lendle will scare publishers away from allowing lending in the future. We don’t see this as a realistic concern primarily because we think it would prove to be a disastrous business decision. Customers want the ability to lend books, they’ve been given a taste, and Amazon (and publishers) must know the negative press they’d suffer by backpedaling on a popular feature. When Lendle was shut down, virtually every major media outlet (large and small) picked up the story and there was a massive outcry from our users and even from those who do not use our service.
If customers are suddenly left without a solution for legal borrowing, at least some of those customers will find a way around the ban on lending (plenty of torrent sites are more than happy to fill the void) and many will buy fewer books. We firmly believe that piracy is inevitable but we also believe that lending sites combat piracy simply by providing a legal and free alternative.
We’ve seen (admittedly, anecdotal) evidence that lending leads to purchases and we do everything we can to provide avenues to purchases through Lendle. We’re a lending focused site, rather than a borrowing focused site, and while that may seem like an attempt at spin, we think it makes all the difference in the world when it comes to the expectations of our users and how they approach our service.
Finally, we believe this can be a turning point for publishers. They can either choose to make the most of this shift, or they can wait until others make the decisions for them. (Hello, music industry.) What they can’t do is wish the shift away. Publishers need to be led by visionaries who will see this for what it is: Potential to innovate a new business model. Crucially, this opportunity comes at a time when the news is often focused on widespread disinterest in reading. Someone needs to start making bold, interesting moves.
Why not provide a non-lendable edition at one price, and a lending-enabled edition (with better terms) at another? Then, allow customers to upgrade to lending-enabled if they decide they want to?
Saying no to lending, or attempting to kill the feature via a practically worthless implementation and poor support isn’t a bold or interesting move. It’s stupid and shortsighted.
One final note. Lendle makes money in two ways: 1) Affiliate revenue when our links lead to purchases — this means we’re making authors money, as well — and 2) via advertising sponsorships. (Most of the sponsor interest we’ve seen has come from authors and publishers.) We do not now and will not ever exchange borrows for money. We believe we offer a valuable service, we work very hard to make it fun and easy and we’re not ashamed about or reluctant to admit that we intend to make money by doing so.