Penguin, Amazon, and the Kindle Lending Library

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:


  1. Stone Flower Garden by Deborah Smith (Bell Bridge Books)
  2. Perfect on Paper The (Mis)Adventures of Waverly Bryson by Maria Murnane (AmazonEncore)
  3. A Home for Christmas by Deborah Grace Staley (Bell Bridge Books)
  4. It's a Waverly Life by Maria Murnane (AmazonEncore)
  5. Hannah's List by Debbie Macomber (Harlequin)
  6. A Christmas to Die For (Love Inspired) by Marta Perry (Harlequin)
  7. An Amish Christmas (Love Inspired) by Patricia Davids (Harlequin)
  8. Harvest Moon by Robyn Carr (Harlequin/Mira)
  9. Faking it by Elisa Lorella (AmazonEncore)
  10. 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!)


Random Musings

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    KM says:

    Is there a similar lending library for the B&N nook? I bought it instead of a Kindle because I like the ability to borrow from the public library, but their selection can be limited – does B&N have plans for anything else?

  2. 2
    SB Sarah says:

    I have no idea, honestly, but I would bet a crispy dollar that folks at BN are paying very close attention to the Kindle Lending Library.

  3. 3
    Lydia says:

    I recently borrowed my first book from the Kindle Lending Library. It was extremely easy. I have not waded into the waters of trying to borrow from my public library’s e-offerings. Well, I waded in, had a hard time searching and finding any book I wanted to borrow and navigating all the acronyms and abbreviations. I quickly gave up. As a result, I still have yet to borrow an e-book from my library. I do still regularly visit and check out hard copy books, though. An e-book is not always the replacement for a hard copy for me. I learned this the hard way when downloading a book about running for beginners. It would have been nice to be able to read the tables and figures. It also would be amazing to have an index that means anything since traditional page numbers referenced mean jack when your Kindle numbering is so different.

  4. 4
    DreadPirateRachel says:

    This is a tough one. The wait list for digital books at my library can be incredibly long, and as you say, it’s so quick and easy to borrow books from Amazon. My schedule is so packed that when I actually have time to read for pleasure, I can’t afford to wait two months to get that book I wanted to read. On the other hand, I want the library to get my business as much as possible, especially since a lot of the library systems in nearby districts are shutting down.

  5. 5
    ajoye says:

    I just wanted to point out that the 21-step process appears to apply only to ePUB titles. I recently checked out a Kindle book from my local library’s offerings for the first time, and it was super easy, as long as you have a kindle with wifi. You just check it out on Overdrive and then head over to Amazon to choose which device to send it to. Next time you connect the kindle to wireless, it downloads automatically. It was super painless. Not quite as easy as purchasing a kindle book, but not bad. If Penguin gets their way, however, and Overdrive has to handle it, it may not be so seamless.

  6. 6
    library addict says:

    I borrow ePub books from my library every week and don’t think the process is difficult at all. Maybe I am just used to it.

    I hope they work everything out and libraries are allowed to keep buying Penguin’s new books.

  7. 7

    I understand the concern expressed by authors over this. It further devalues content, because it enforces the idea that content can be accessed for free, therefore should be accessed for free, therefore shouldn’t be paid for.

    One of the big issues was also that Amazon did it without even asking permission from some of the authors or publishers. So publishers were waking up and hearing from their authors, “What is going on? Why is my book all of a sudden free on Amazon for Prime members?”

    I think everyone has had experiences where the beg forgiveness instead of ask for permission method has worked, but Amazon has its own purposes for doing things, and I don’t mean to sound cynical, but I don’t think “for the good of the reader” is even in its top 10. What they care about is locking people into the Kindle, because once that’s done, they’ve got them roped in for so many other things – eBooks, music, video, etc. By having a plus of something like this, it gives them a competitive edge over their competition. I think that’s what made them do it and what they care about – because it is hugely profitable.

  8. 8
    SB Sarah says:

    I agree with you, Juliana. I don’t think “what’s good for the reader” is in Amazon’s top 10. It may be “what’s good for the customer… who will buy more Kindles and more books for the Kindle….”

  9. 9

    @KM: Nothing that has been made public or been rumored. B&N is the one that originated the direct lending, because they are actually the ones that first came out with the “certain books are lendable, though only once and for a period of 14 days.” Then Amazon setup the exact same system. All of that is at the discretion of the publisher and when Amazon instated the same system, a lot of publishers actually pulled their books from being offered by either in that way.

    At this point, B&N has a more productive and friendly relationship with publishers and everything Amazon does makes them seem like the better and more cooperative version to publishers. It’s in their best interest to maintain that and try to retain that good favor. They’re also more reliant on the publishers than Amazon at this time, and therefore don’t have the same pissing-off threshold.

  10. 10
    Tnlarkin says:

    The Kindle Lending Library cutting into my local library’s business isn’t an issue for me, and isn’t likely to be for a very long time. It’s a small-town library, it doesn’t lend digital books and I can’t see it having the money to do so for quite awhile. Most of the books it has are from patron donations, not purchased. Heck, it only switched to computers at the beginning of this year. Before that all the books still had a card with a return date stamped on it inside the front cover. Good thing they aren’t using their vast resources to screw the big publishing houses out of any money.

    Oh, wait—it’s the big pubs who’ve screwed themselves out of my money because I no longer buy new books from them. I either check them out from the library, wait until they show up in my local UBS (so I can support local business that way) and then often donate them to the library after I’m done reading them, or I buy them through an Amazon marketplace UBS (doing my small part to chap their ass) and donate to the library. Otherwise, I go without some of my favorite authors until they show up in one of those places.

    And the Kindle Lending Library is incredibly easy to use. After it was announced, I checked out Book 1 from a series I had Books 2 and 3 for, but was waiting to read them until I found Book 1. Nice luck for me because I’m sure that wasn’t the result they were looking for. I did a bit of digging around through the available titles, and nearly all of them I was interested in, had been offered as freebies at some point during the last year, or so, and I already owned them. Between that fact and only being able to check out one per month, I can’t see the KLL freeing up much of my book buying budget nor that of any other avid reader. Read: the sky is not falling.

  11. 11

    [“what’s good for the customer… who will buy more Kindles and more books for the Kindle….”]

    Lol! Yes, well put.

  12. 12
    CK says:

    Sarah, if I’m missing something let me know, but tbh I just don’t see the big deal here. Amazon is purchasing the books and lending it to its Prime members. I see it as ‘membership has its privileges’. Those customers are definitely paying for the content. Amazon are not buying one book, making 1000 copies and THEN lending it out. Also, not like every person who has a Kindle is a Prime member. Frankly if publishers don’t like it, they can pull all of their books from Amazon. Oh wait…they don’t want to lose all those eyeballs and revenue.

  13. 13

    The bumps, roadblocks and sinkholes on the digital highway give me new respect for the pioneers of prior generations.  Once upon a time the creation of libraries to lend paper books must have caused similar havoc.

  14. 14
    Anony Miss says:

    Amazon has offered its ‘Prime’ service for free in various promotions. The marketing angle of Prime is if people have it, Amazon will be their first choice for almost any online purchase, diapers to books to furniture.

    Amazon is saying here, if you buy $79 Prime, we’ll spend $7/month on you. Total marketing win, especially because as aforestated, it also ropes people further into the KindleEmpire.

  15. 15
    Courtney Hunt says:

    Just wanted to concur with @ajoye here—the Kindle lending process at my local library is incredibly easy and quick. Two or three steps max.

    I am a Prime member and am delighted about the new lending library. But, let’s be honest here—it’s a maximum of 12 “free” books a year out of a selection of older titles. As of right now, it’s not the most recent or the bestselling titles at all. It’s not going to answer the mail as far as all my book reading needs:-) And the Kindle still “enables” me to spend a lot more on books per month than I was before!

    And @Anony Miss—it’s only for customers who pay for Prime (not those on a free trial).

  16. 16
    Nikki says:

    I used the KLL option this month.  A lot of the books and authors are ones I would never purchase outright on my own because 1. they are overpriced, 2. they are authors I have never read, 3. it is a genre or publisher I am not sure about.  To me publishers and authors really should take advantage of it.  I think the free book option on Amazon for kindle versions is woefully underutilized as well.  I say this because I have tried authors I would otherwise never touch because the a book was free and went on to buy others or the next book in the series.  The same thing happened with the KLL and I look forward to reading other books in the future.  Honestly, the author and publisher got paid, I bought a second book, and am now waiting for the third.  Otherwise, that is near $20 I would not have spent.  So over the course of the year, you might be looking at an extra few hundred I am going to spend because I found something I liked and want to glom the author.  In the long-run, you now have someone who will follow that author which can translate to a longer career than they might otherwise have. 

    I don’t think this devalues content.  Because at that point you are also saying that public libraries also devalue authors because they buy a single copy and books are loaned out without benefit.  I do not think it is true in the least.  While I don’t utilize my local library, my reading habits were formed as a child and it translates to my purchasing behavior now.  I am not saying amazon is entirely right, but I think we need to recognize that neither side is perfect.  Publisher’s aren’t really defending authors, they are defending their perceived bottom line.

  17. 17
    lisareadinggirl says:

    Wow, it seems like Penguin wants to discourage people from reading their books. (How have they stayed in business with ideas like this?) I know they don’t like amazon, but how is alienating kindle owners a good idea? After all, kindle currently has the majority of users (over nook, iPad, Sony, etc.).

  18. 18
    Aurora says:

    No disrespect intended, but the more difficulties I read about Kindle or Nook or whatnot, the more I simply want to stick to print books instead of moving on to digital reading…

  19. 19
    Rebecca says:

    Actually, I was just reading about this in Park Honan’s biography of Jane Austen.  At a time when print books were luxury items that were far too expensive to be sold to a mass audience, the creation of libraries actually increased the market for books, since libraries purchased multiple copies, and had the funds to do so.  So libraries didn’t create havoc.  They created profits.  Still, it’s interesting to remember that print books were once equivalent to e-readers in price (i.e. the expensive ones costing more than a week’s wages for a laborer).

  20. 20
    Sandia Tsai says:

    I’m undecided about how I feel with the Prime Lending Library. For those books that Amazon hasn’t made a flat fee deal for, isn’t it a better deal for both the Author and the Publisher?  If I read a free book that I like – the chances of me buying the authors backlist rises exponentially.

    I’ve somewhat gotten over the publishers bleeding their ebook customers with their prices, but every thing they do like this leaves more of a sour taste in my mouth.

  21. 21
    Kirsten says:

    I’m tending to agree with CK about the Kindle Lending Library. My Kindle died, someone gave me a nook, I’m not buying another Kindle while I have a working ereader. I have a Prime membership and read Kindle books using the Android app all the time, but because I didn’t buy their machine, I can’t use this feature of my Prime membership.  It’s not that great a deal anyway. It doesn’t take me long to finish a book, and there aren’t many books currently listed that I would want to read.

    Initially I was really indignant about the Kindle Lending Library, because I felt like it would take business away from libraries, but I really don’t think it will work that way, at least for the present. It’s still a better deal for me to shell out $50 for a PLAC card so I can check out books at whatever in-state library I want (I live near but not in a city with a very large library system where I can place holds and renew books indefinitely online- SO worth the money) than to buy an additional ereader. If I want a book badly enough that I can’t wait to get to the library, I’d have to buy it anyway.

    I don’t think this is really about getting people to buy Kindles. I read someplace that Amazon actually loses money on the Kindle Fire. I think it’s an incentive to get Prime members to buy a Kindle, to get them hooked on buying ebooks, and to get Kindle owners to buy a Prime membership, so Amazon can get you hooked on all the other benefits. The catastrophe for libraries (and readers) is the way publishers (and Amazon) keep jerking them around. I don’t know what the solution to that is.

  22. 22
    Becca says:

    and in more bad news, according to Publisher’s Weekly, Random House (the last of the big 6 to sell ebooks to libraries) is “actively reviewing” it’s library ebook policy.

  23. 23
    JenniferP says:

    Sounds like it boils down to (yet another) pissing contest between an Agency pub and Amazon with libraries and readers caught in the crossfire. I honestly have no idea who is “right” and “wrong” here (if anyone), but I do know that, from a customer-based POV, Amazon certainly *looks* like the goody guy trying to do more for me while the publisher(s) look like Ebenezer Scrooge trying to screw me out of goods if it doesn’t line their pockets to their satisfaction.

    Right or wrong that is how many consumers will see this which means that the publisher loses in the court of public opinion, and I’m not sure publishers can stand to lose too many more rounds especially now that Amazon has in-house publishing that appears to offer more benefits to both authors and customers.

  24. 24
    Anony Miss says:

    “(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!)”

    …um, actually, since that ‘fix’ nothing is coming up on my Google Reader, and I even followed your RSS links to add it again, and nada. 🙁

  25. 25
    lisa pomales says:

    My question is to Sarah do you think that the people who ignore the is copyright rules will find it easier or harder to go around DRM ?

  26. 26
    Sarah says:

    I think I fixed it. Let me know if it isn’t updating now?

  27. 27
    Sarah says:

    Lisa: I am not sure I understand the question. What do you mean?

  28. 28
    Terrie says:

    I was really sad to read about publishers pulling out of public library lending.  The reasons sound odd-ish.  I’ve checked out ebooks from our local library using Overdrive and whether I’ve done pdf or kindle, it’s been a very easy process.  I’m not sure what the 21-step process is about.  I browse books and either move one into my cart or place a hold.  If or when the book is available, I check download, where I am immediately hopped over to Amazon where I click to check it out.  It’s actually been a very simple, painless process.  Way less time and effort than the 21-step process it takes me to get out the door and to the library itself!  I am just crossing my fingers and hoping they work out the disagreements in a way that is beneficial to all involved: readers, writers, publishers, and distributors.  Surely that isn’t all that impossible to manage.

  29. 29
    Kristi says:

    I’m not sure how the Kindle takes business away from the public library? To me it sounds like complaining that private schools take business away from the public. Seems to me that if a large chunk of people use Kindle Lending Library, then the local public library may for a while have more money to spread around on everyone else. I realize that if the number of actual library card holders declines, then libraries may have a tough sell in getting more tax revenue. But I’m not sure that’s going to be a long-term problem (public schools survive just fine). Folks who don’t want to “pay” for their library will still use the public one. Folks who think Prime is a good idea will use prime.

    Either way, I don’t see why publishers fret so much—they are getting their books in front of readers, and are getting paid for the copies they sell. Just like they do in paper. There are folks who won’t or can’t pay for copies of books, so they check them out. And there are readers like me who spend hundreds of $ a year buying books but still check books out from the library, especially for authors or titles I’m not sure about (Sometimes I end up buying quite a few of the authors books later on). Take away my library option and I won’t spend more on books, but probably just take fewer chances on new ones (or start lending/borrowing loaded e-readers with my reading friends, like we do with paper books).

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