Library eBooks Coming Soon to Amazon Kindle! But At What Cost?

May 13, 2011
Posted in: News

After getting past some of my initial concerns about the Amazon/OverDrive announcement about the Kindle Lending Library(I was relieved to learn libraries won’t be required to purchase an additional format to allow patrons to use OverDrive ebooks on Kindles and Kindle apps) I celebrated. I own a Kindle and love it. Plus, the hints we are hearing from OverDrive make it sound as if the process for Kindle owners will be faster and easier than any other, and dare I say it? not require Adobe Digital Editions (the bane of my existence). Unfortunately, some new concerns have started to creep in as I think through the long term implications for this deal. Amazon is getting access to a LOT of information about libraries, even if it is anonymized, and it is making me wonder if we should have done a better job negotiating our deal. I applaud OverDrive for working with Amazon to get ebooks on the Kindle (and Kindle apps); however, I can’t help feel they should have worked a harder deal for the information we will need to ensure that libraries have a future in the ebook business.
Let’s look at few examples. 

Amazon will know exactly how many Kindle owners are library borrowers. This is huge information as we advance in the evolution of ebooks. Libraries should have access to these numbers. Amazon won’t even confirm the exact number of Kindles they’ve sold. Yes OverDrive should be able to tell us numbers and percentages for how many of our borrowers are Kindle owners. But what I would really like to know is how many Kindle owners also borrow from their public library.

Amazon will know exactly what percentage of library checkouts lead to purchase. We know that borrowing books from a library doesn’t hurt sales, and in fact it improves them. There has been research. But now Amazon will have the cold hard numbers that show what percentage of people borrow a book from the library then buy it from Amazon. They might even know if you borrowed an ebook then bought a print copy. This is so important as we (and Amazon) move forward in negotiating our place in the ebook world.

Amazon is going to have access to a LOT of stats about library user habits, both borrowing and buying. These are just two examples.  This is very valuable information as we advance with the development of ebooks, and the role libraries play. This is information libraries need and should have. While I am thrilled personally that I’ll be able to use library ebooks on my Kindle, and professionally that I’ll no longer have to tell Kindle owners that they can’t borrow ebooks from the library because Amazon doesn’t allow it, I can’t help be concerned that in the end we have made an very uneven trade.

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-posted by Bobbi Newman, Library Renewal Contributing Editor and Advocate

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