In a much-publicized deal announced last week, Amazon and OverDrive, the most prominent distributor of ebooks to libraries in the United States, will be teaming up to provide access to Amazon’s Kindle book collection for some 11,000 public and school libraries. Fulfilling a promise Amazon made back in April 2011, the company is now allowing Kindle owners to check out ebooks directly to their devices. While individual libraries will have the power to determine the loan period for ebooks, once the patron reaches the book’s due date it will automatically disappear from their Kindle, as is true with all other ereaders. Not all titles on the OverDrive network are currently available in Kindle format. Libraries are already predicting a stampede of holds on Kindle-supported books in the coming months, though most expect demand to outstrip their ability to afford enough licenses.
Checking out ebooks from your local public library is not a new phenomenon—owners of Sony’s Reader line and Barnes and Noble’s Nook have been able to borrow digital titles via the OverDrive network for quite some time. But, then again, no other ereader has even come close to being as popular as the Kindle. With Amazon’s debut of the Kindle Fire tablet and a revamped version of the traditional Kindle retailing for $79 (the touch version goes for $99), there’s reason to believe that many, many more Americans will be reading from ereaders or tablets. In a recent article, Martin Lengeveld of the Nieman Journalism Lab boldly predicted “with tablet penetration now at 9 percent just 18 months after the first shipment of the $500 iPad, I expect tablets to hit 80 percent within five years, if the price is right. And the price is now right.”
So if the price is right, what does this mean for the future of library lending? For one, ebook usage in local libraries and schools across the country is going to increase—quickly. According to the American Library Association (ALA), those 11,000 participating libraries only make up about 9% of all libraries in the US. Josh Hadro, an executive editor for Library Journal, tweeted in April 2011: “My guess: this is going to push ebook usage in libraries through the roof. ‘After Kindle lending, the deluge.’” The affordability of the standard model Kindle, coupled with Amazon and OverDrive’s presence in local libraries, could signal the beginning of a much-anticipated transition from print to digital in the library usage patterns of ordinary Americans. Most forecasts call for a deluge of library-to-kindle users, but there are still issues related to privacy, the entrenchment of proprietary software, and the equation of patron with customer associated with the Amazon deal that are raising concerns among some in the library industry.
Some experts predict that Amazon’s arrival in libraries will re-open the debate between publishers and libraries about ebook lending. HarperCollins, who placed a cap on the amount of times their ebooks could be lent out at 26, set a precedent that many libraries found unsustainable and unfair (Macmillan and Simon & Schuster haven’t even started lending). By offering borrowable titles free-of-charge to Kindle-owning library patrons, Amazon is putting forward a model for e-lending based upon licenses purchased, not number of times lent. In an article published on CNN.com, the director of the American Library Association’s program for public access to information described the move as “fantastic.” With handfuls of libraries announcing their participation everyday, the Amazon-OverDrive union is bound to generate a great deal of data and analysis about ebook use and elending over the next year. Stay tuned.
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