Looks like perhaps Amazon recently started allowing libraries to ‘lend’ kindle ebooks.
Does anyone know the pricing model to libraries?
An important thing to realize about how the rise of ebooks effects libraries, is the legal difference between ebook or print books for library lending.
A print book, a library (or in fact anyone else) who purchases a copy has the right to lend it to anyone they like (or to resell it to anyone they like), without any special permission from the copyright holder or vendor. I know some publishers have a special higher “library price”; it’s never been entirely clear to me why libraries would pay this, pretty sure there’s no way to enforce it or prevent a library (or anyone else) from buying the ordinary retail copy at an ordinary retail price and lending.
That is generally not true of ebooks. Because of DRM; because of license agreements and the general model of ‘licensing’ software rather than selling it; and because the fact that transfering an ebook to a new device neccesarily involves ‘making a copy’ complicates the application of the ‘first sale doctrine’. Note that Amazon only recently allowed libraries to lend ebooks under presumably a different pricing model than simply buying a single retail copy and lending it out to as many patrons as you want (one at a time). For print books, no such “permission” is needed, you can simply do it.
Readers and library patrons generally unaware of threat
When I bring up this issue (not at my workplace, but among friends), many library patrons are unaware of it, and indeed somewhat hostile to even believing me. Perhaps assuming I’m simply being a luddite or hating on ebooks for aesthetic reasons, or some sort of judgement against those who prefer ebooks — this is not the case, I’ve got nothing against ebooks as a technology.
But many patrons figure, after all, libraries have started to lend ebooks; patrons assume that the limited availability is simply the beginning of a technological adoption curve, and that libraries carry ebooks at all means that libraries will transition to ebooks along with their readers.
Patrons do not realize that libraries are probably paying a lot more per-use for ebooks than they did for print books (I would be really interested in some actual data on this if anyone has it, for a particular provider or averaged accross providers common among public or academic libraries), and that it’s not at all clear that this will change, and if it does not, it could make a library transition to ebook lending entirely unfeasible. Because libraries aren’t telling them, perhaps out of a desire to prove continued relevancy, libraries are trying to make it look like they will have no problem transitioning to ebooks. The cost of this, however, is suppressing awareness of the threat to the actual viability of lending libraries in an ebook world — and therefore suppressing the potential of a demand for legal or marketplace changes to ensure lending library viability in an eobok world. It may time to sound the alarm, instead.
(I know that ALA expressed some concern over a particular publishers ebook lending policy; but I’m somewhat surprised ALA hasn’t been sounding a more general alarm about the serious threat to the right to lend at all, in an ebook world. Complaining about one particular publisher’s ‘policy’ is to implicitly concede the fact that it’s up to the publisher’s discretion to make such ‘policies’ giving us permission to lend at all, which they did not in a print book world. This is such a shift in the socio-economics of reading that we ought not to be conceding.)
While I do love traditional printed and bound books, I will emphasize yet again that I do not neccesarily find the prospect of a transition in reader preferences to ebooks threatening, considered purely in terms of technology/medium. Changes in the technology of reading and information sharing have happened before and will continue to happen, it’s still (a kind of) reading and (a kind of) book.
What is more frightening is the differences in intellectual property rights and coresponding differences in how the marketplace works — not just for libraries, but in general looking at a world where books must be individually purchased by each reader and can’t be shared or loaned among friends. This is of course what copyright holders and publishers want; what’s a library but a pre-digital form of ‘file sharing’, after all? But it’s actually rather terrifying to this (e)book lover.