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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Kindle Users to Join the Long Library Queues with the Rest of Us

I wonder if Amazon's announcement that the company has partnered with OverDrive to make it possible for Kindle-users to download books from local libraries will be the final nail in the coffin of Sony's e-book Reader?  Amazon's slowness in making it possible for its Kindle to connect with public libraries has been about the only good thing Sony still had going for it in the e-book-reader wars.  Now, Sony is saying goodbye to even that last advantage.

Without a doubt, Amazon is doing the right thing for its customers.  But those customers are likely in for rude shocks the first time they try to "check out" a book from their local libraries.  Even without the millions of Kindle-users in the queues, checking out an e-book has been no easy task.  It is all a matter of supply and demand - and most public libraries are already finding it near impossible to keep up with the demand for e-books.  Throw the new Kindle-based patrons into the mix, and the wait is likely to be one of several weeks for access to even a relatively popular title.

Rather than helping to shorten the wait-time for library patrons, publishers, still unsure how to deal with public libraries and e-books, are actually a big part of the problem.  Libraries face at least three challenges when acquiring e-book copies, especially copies of popular titles: high base prices vs. their very limited budgets for what are considered to be extra books; not all publishers are willing to sell e-books to libraries; and, at least one publisher will only allow its e-books to be checked out 26 times before they must be retired forever.

There is little doubt that Amazon's entry into your public library will bring the e-book/public library business model to a crisis much sooner than would have otherwise happened, forcing publishers to take a more reasonable approach to libraries - or to concede that market to other publishers willing to grant more equitable terms.  In the short run, this will further frustrate those who enjoy the convenience of acquiring library books from the comfort of home; in the long run, it will probably help to equalize the current e-book supply/demand imbalance a whole lot sooner than expected.

We'll be watching.
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