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.
- 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:
- Daring Fireball (No outlet, big or small, mainstream or not, comes anywhere close to the traffic we get from a DF link.)
- The Next Web
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.
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.
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.
- 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!