Tuesday, March 22, 2011

No Sharing, Suckers!

Remember when Amazon made the big announcement that some of its Kindle books would be available for sharing with your friends (or family, if you have no friends)?  Of course, the whole thing was pretty much just a big slice of PR baloney because each e-book could only be loaned once for 14 days - and never again.  So along came sites like Lendle where book owners could list their books for sharing with others who offered to do the same.  The more books you listed, the more books you could borrow from someone.  It was all done by the rules: each book was only good for one 14-day swap and then it was retired forever.

Sweet deal, right?  Well, it was apparently too sweet for Amazon (or, more likely for the publishers that produce Kindle books for Amazon) so Amazon pulled the plug on Lendle yesterday by denying the site access to its Kindle database.

E-book buyers already give up a fistful of rights one expects to have when buying a book, especially the right to resell the book to another buyer.  That's bad enough, but throw in the inconvenience caused by the fact that Kindle books are pretty much readable only on a Kindle; the ridiculous refusal of certain publishers to sell e-books to libraries, period; and the limit that one particular publisher places on how many times an e-book can be checked out from a library before it has to be repurchased, and one begins to think these publishers don't have the first clue about marketing their shiny new golden eggs e-product.  If book publishers learned nothing from what happened to the music industry in the last decade, they deserve to suffer the same fate - and they will.

Consumers are going to find ways to get cheap e-books.  They might prefer to borrow them from others of the same mind but, if publishers refuse to let that happen, there are plenty of ways to get at the books.  It might not be legal, but it will happen.  Pirate sites are already out there, but they are tiny compared to what was available (and still is) for CDs and movies.  If publishers do not start playing fair with their customers, however, those pirate book sites will not stay tiny for long.  When consumers feel cheated, they see little wrong in cheating back.  Is that where the book world is headed?

Who benefits from this boneheaded Amazon move?  Publishers?  Retailers?  Customers/readers?  The unfortunate answer is: no one, absolutely no one.

Jeff Croft, Lendle co-founder, tells his side of the story here.


  1. It's not just that they don't have a clue, they don't *want* to have a clue. There are publishing execs who have as much as said that they're trying to slow down the adoption of e-books. This is new territory for them and they don't have the foggiest idea what to do about it.

    Sometimes it seems like e-books have punctured some sort of festering publisher boil, and all the secret distrust and dislike for readers and libraries is spewing out.

  2. Whoops, in this case I suppose it'd be Amazon's boil, and not publishers', although my statement can be applied to both.

    My favorite, when I first read about this, was the statement that Lendle "serve the principal purpose of driving sales of products and services on the Amazon site." With all the limitations on lending (which I had forgotten about until you wrote about them in your post), this is just mindboggling.

  3. The strangest bit to me is that the publishers and Amazon should love something like Lendle. The books can only be loaned once for 14 days...then they are dead to everyone but the owner of the book. That means the loaning priviledge has been gotten out of the way quickly and new readers will have to purchase if they want to read it. From Amazon's point of view, the damage has been done, but that was built in to their computation anyway...what's the big deal? Is it publishers who object because they hope that only a small percentage of buyers will ever actually go through the trouble of loaning a copy out? Has Lendle made it too easy to suit publishers?

  4. "When consumers feel cheated, they see little wrong in cheating back"

    Is it cheating when I lend my paper book to a friend? More than once? For more than 14 days?

  5. Lendle is back up. http://bit.ly/i0i4W4
    Amazon said they are fine with lending sites, but that Lendle specifically, tried to sync too much with an individuals profile, which opens up security and privacy doors that are off limits.

    So Lendle deactivated those features and Amazon turned the tap back on.

    I have to agree with you that no one wins by shutting down lending sites.

  6. Absolutely not, Factotum. And that's one of my pet peeves about e-books. They are not cheap, despite what some people want to believe, and the consumer has very limited rights to what he purchases when he buys an e-book. That's what bugs me about these publishers. It's my e-book and, if I want to loan it to you, my brother, and my co-worker, I should be allowed to do that.

  7. Trav, glad to see that Lendle is back up; thanks for alerting us.

    You know, a company as big and successful as Amazon should be a whole lot better at PR. Why wouldn't they notify Lendle as to the problem (before a sneak attack shutting them down) so that it could be fixed right up front. Alerting the media would have helped, too...now it's the folks at Amazon who had to take the heat and look like dopes.

  8. Amazon has never been graceful in these types of situations. I used to think that they just didn't care. But it's beginning to look like a systemic problem.

    But they're Amazon. They have enough cash on hand to ride out any kind of bad press.

    I agree that Lendle should've been given some kind of notification prior to the tap being shut off.

  9. Sometimes I think Amazon just likes to remind all the other players that Amazon is the Big Dog.