First up: per Publisher's Lunch, Overdrive announced on their blog yesterday:
“‘Get for Kindle’ for all Penguin eBooks in your catalog has been restored as of this morning. Penguin titles are available for check out by Kindle users and the Kindle format will be available for patrons who are currently on a waiting list for a Penguin title. This does not affect new releases, which remain unavailable.
We apologize for the inconvenience this caused for your library and patrons.
At this time, no further information is available. We hope to share more details in the near future.”
So Kindle lending is back except for new stuff, which is unavailable. This made the Hokey Pokey get stuck in my head like you have NO idea. You put the ebook in, you take the ebook out, you stick ebook in and you shake it all about….
Over at the ALA's Digital Shift blog there's a statement from Penguin that reads:
Penguin USA took the decision yesterday to withhold the supply of new digital titles from suppliers to US libraries until concerns about the security of the copyright of its authors have been resolved.
In addition, Penguin informed suppliers to libraries that it expected them to abide by existing agreements to offer older digital titles to libraries only if those files were held behind the firewalls of the suppliers.
Following receipt of this information, Overdrive, a supplier of ebooks to US libraries, removed “Get for Kindle” from its offering.
Penguin has subsequently been informed by Amazon that it had not been consulted by Overdrive about the terms of Penguin’s agreement with Overdrive. Amazon has undertaken to work with Penguin and Overdrive between now and the end of the year to address Penguin’s concerns. Penguin will, as a result, restore the supply of these titles until the end of the year in order to return the availability of older titles to all its digital customers.
“Behind the firewalls of the suppliers?” As in, “so long as the books aren't housed at Amazon or on Amazon's servers, we're all good?”
Apparently, yes. Clicking on a “get for Kindle” link to borrow a library book via Overdrive led patrons to the Amazon site to get said book for Kindle.
Now, because I'm nosy, I asked some Ninja Librarians about how this Kindle Lending works for their libraries.
At the library where the Ninja Librarians I spoke with work daily (I don't want to name which one because I don't want them to get into trouble with the Head Ninja Librarian), patrons can borrow digital titles in both ePub or Kindle format. Overdrive manages both, and tracks which books are borrowed and which are available.
So, the Library of Greater Ninja pays a fee to access digital titles, and the patrons have a choice of Kindle or ePub format. Each title comes with one checkout option, either ePub or Kindle.
If the Library of Greater Ninja has only one digital title for lending, two patrons can't each check out an ePub version or a Kindle version for themselves. If the ePub patron got to that book first, the Kindle patron has to wait.
The trouble, it seems, between Penguin, Overdrive, and Libraries of Greater Ninjas is that once a patron elects to borrow a book for the Kindle, that patron completes all or some of that transaction from the Amazon server. Amazon, not Overdrive, administers all the borrowing for Kindle devices. Once you “check-out” from Overdrive, you are taken to Amazon, where you are prompted to sign into your Amazon account. The library books are under “Manage your Kindle.”
Penguin does not like that, and from their statement above, it seems Amazon is working to make Penguin happy about the library lending process.
Meanwhile, back at
the Ranch Amazon, things are very curious indeed. They've got the new Kindle Owners' Lending Library.
Amazon is lending one eBook per month to their Prime Kindle customers through the Kindle Owners' Lending Library. Similar to digital streaming of videos for Prime members on the Kindle Fire, Kindle owners who are also Prime members can borrow books from the “Kindle Owners' Lending Library” which appears as a menu option on the Kindle. Any book marked with a “Prime” logo is eligible for lending through the Kindle Lending Library.
The titles are only from certain publishers, not all, and Amazon customers can only borrow one book per month.
This is alarming for a few parties, including publishers, authors, and public libraries. This is basically a private lending library just for Kindle owners with Prime membership.
Publishers are frostily put out about this because, as the Publisher's Marketplace special bulletin read:
As publishers and agents have started to realize with exasperation today, a number of titles in the Kindle Lending Library program–including some of the bestselling, prominently-promoted titles on the program's home page–are part of this new initiative without the consent or affirmative participation of the publishers and rightsholders. Not only that, but at least some come from companies that directly turned down Amazon's initial offer over the past few months to license a broad selection of backlist for a flat fee. Multiple participants were only told by Amazon yesterday (or found out themselves this morning) that this was happening. How could such a thing be possible, many people are wondering? Under most standard wholesale contracts with Amazon, as long the etailer pays the stipulated wholesale price for each download, there is nothing to prevent them choosing to give those titles away for free, under whatever additional rules they might designate. So Amazon pays the publisher the wholesale price each time a qualified Prime member “borrows” the ebook. Those will count as sales, because, well, they are sales, which will at least boost the “sales rank” of those titles at the site.
That explains why Amazon's press release specifically mentioned that “in some cases, Amazon is purchasing a title each time it is borrowed by a reader under standard wholesale terms as a no-risk trial to demonstrate to publishers the incremental growth and revenue opportunity that this new service presents.” They weren't talking to consumers or the press; they were addressing publishers and authors.
Amazon spokesperson Sarah Gelman acknowledges that “for a minority of titles in the service, we added titles that we currently sell under wholesale terms, which we are purchasing in exactly the same fashion as when a customer buys a book a la carte from the store. It is essentially an Amazon-funded promotion, much the same as a Kindle Daily Deal or our long-standing 4-for-3 deal in children's books, where the author and publisher are compensated identically regardless of whether a book is purchased or borrowed.”
As of right now, publishers and agents are trying to decide what they can do about the Kindle Lending Library, because Amazon is paying for the books, then lending them for free.
The listing for the books has changed, too:
Currently on my Kindle Fire, the Kindle Lending Library's “Romance” collection currently holds 335 titles, and sorted by “bestselling” the top five were:
- Stone Flower Garden by Deborah Smith (Bell Bridge Books)
- Perfect on Paper The (Mis)Adventures of Waverly Bryson by Maria Murnane (AmazonEncore)
- A Home for Christmas by Deborah Grace Staley (Bell Bridge Books)
- It's a Waverly Life by Maria Murnane (AmazonEncore)
- Hannah's List by Debbie Macomber (Harlequin)
- A Christmas to Die For (Love Inspired) by Marta Perry (Harlequin)
- An Amish Christmas (Love Inspired) by Patricia Davids (Harlequin)
- Harvest Moon by Robyn Carr (Harlequin/Mira)
- Faking it by Elisa Lorella (AmazonEncore)
- That Holiday Feeling by Robin Carr, Debbie Macmber and Sherryl Woods (Harlequin)
So no titles from The Big Six are available, and not every Harlequin title is available, either. For example, Robyn Carr's new book “Bring Me Home for Christmas” is not available for lending.
What's the advantage for readers? Ease of use, for one thing. Borrowing a book from the Kindle Lending Library? Stone easy. Borrowing from my public library? Not nearly so easy. Due to the myriad restrictions of DRM, as Katie Dunneback demonstrated at last year's Tools of Change in Publishing, there's a 21-step process to borrow a digital book from the library via Overdrive and download it to a device.
The downside is that Amazon effectively creates a library just for Kindle owners, and just for those who have purchased the Prime membership, which is $79.00 per year.
That leaves a rock in my stomach not because of what it means for publishers or authors, but what it means for public libraries. As easy as it would be for me to borrow from the Amazon library, I'd honestly feel guilty about doing so, just because it undermines my public library's ability to serve its patrons – an ability that's already hampered by a 21-step process to borrow authenticate and re-authenticate a single book.
Amazon's model has long been based on the idea that it's easier to beg forgiveness than to ask permission. They set up programs and then answer concerns about them. For example, with Macmillan, as you might recall, all the books from Macmillan were not available from Amazon due to a stalemate between the companies. But once that argument was settled, Amazon, as I heard from a few sources, calculated lost royalties for Macmillan authors from the period of time during which their books were not available.
Clearly, the hokey pokey may indeed be what it is all about. I don't have a lot of empathy for the big six whinging about lost money or possibly piracy when they make it ever harder and more expensive to buy a digital book. And it's not like I think Amazon is a corporation of squishy, huggable goodness, though I am amazed at how far paying attention to customer service can take one company. But I remain concerned at the slap this seems to be for libraries.
I'll keep emailing folks to find out more – and update as I can. (The thing where any updates to an entry caused the entry to reappear as “new” in an RSS feed should be fixed, by the way!)