Starting this week, Amazon has launched a new book lending scheme for its US Kindle customers. Subscribers to the Amazon Prime service, that offers priority shipping and streaming media for a flat annual charge, will now also be able to dip into a collection of 5,000 titles, including dozens of bestsellers.
Readers can borrow one book each calendar month with no due dates, and the system will only lend them one book at a time. Books can only be read on Kindle.
Essentially Amazon is saying that for the price of a Kindle, which starts at $79, and a further annual charge of $79, users have free access to 12 books a year and 13,000 streaming movies and TV shows. In other words, Amazon has created a model where users pay money not to buy content, but just to borrow it. This is in contrast to Apple’s iTunes model, where Apple sells the music outright. But both models seem to make sense in their respective categories. Unlike music, which is often listened to multiple times, books and movies are seldom consumed more than once. Therefore, a lending model for those categories makes sense.
Amazon’s Kindle. Photo: Bloomberg
Which explains why the six biggest publishers in the US have all refused to participate in the programme. The Wall Street Journal says that many senior publishing executives are worried that participating in such a digital lending programme will not only hurt outright sales of books, especially from their back catalogues, but also hurt their relationships with retailers.
What these executives need to do urgently is to speak to their counterparts in the music industry. When users begin to change the way they consume content, the worst thing to do is to resist the change. Especially by refusing to conform. By opting out of the digital lending programme, these six publishers are telling readers that while there is a more sensible way of distributing books, they would rather stick to a model that is more expensive to the end-consumer. And for reasons that add no value to the relationship.
Thankfully for mankind, libraries were invented before the onset of the modern publishing industry. Letting people read books for free? There is no chance such madness would be allowed today.
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