Amazon’s eBook lending library is not the library apocalypse

A few days ago, Amazon announced its free eBook lending service to Amazon Prime members. I read this program summary from AppAdvice and thought, “Uh oh. Here it is. The library apocalypse.”

I didn’t rush to blog about this, which actually worked out in my favor. Cooler heads prevail. Bobbi Newman of Librarian By Day has this very succinct, reasonable assessment.

In short, there isn’t enough content freely available at Amazon’s lending library to compete with the sheer volume of free content available in public libraries. The one free eBook per month (with restrictions) cannot compete with the free access to multiple books (ie. “all you can read”) available through public libraries.

Also noteworthy: this service only works for actual Kindle users. This service is intentionally built not to work with iOS Kindle apps. This is mostly about an incentive to give people one more reason to buy a very moderately priced Kindle eReader or the new Kindle Fire. Great PR move.

Amazon Prime is a good deal and this free lending service looks pretty interesting. I see a few titles in the list that I want to read myself. A bit tempting to try. Amazon is trying to lure heavy readers into buying their eBooks from Amazon. That’s fine, but most serious readers I know use both the public library and Amazon.

What do you think? Can Amazon lure you away from your local public library for the price of one free borrowed eBook every month? Or, might the reading tent be big enough to accommodate more than one option for getting free stuff to read when you want to read it?

First World Problems?

While I’ve been busy blogging about my frustrations with upgrading to iOS5, Sarah Houghton (Librarian in Black) has been busy telling the world how librarians got screwed by the recent deal between Overdrive and Amazon. Basically, Amazon has agreed to make Overdrive eBooks super simple for registered library patrons. In exchange, library patrons’ reading histories and other personal data will become property of Amazon. Amazon users should already be familiar with this practice as it is a standard aspect of the Amazon EULA (you do read those, right?).

Library patrons will also have the chance to purchase the borrowed books they especially enjoy.

Nothing sinister on the surface, perhaps. I like getting book recommendations from Amazon based on what I bought that others bought.

But LiB is correct in her righteous fuming to chastise us librarians for being so willing to turn a blind eye to the privacy concerns so quickly in order to catch the eContent we need to satisfy demand. We need to have a conversation about this, even if, at the end of the day, we sign on to the deal anyway.

Watch the video and let me know what you think of her arguments. BTW, parts of her rant are NSFW.

More than a few comments suggest that privacy is such a 20th century idea. At least one person calls Sarah’s privacy concerns a “First World problem”. Having to get more memory so I can upgrade to iOS5 is the very definition of a First World Problem. Not wanting to easily surrender the idea that “free people read freely” and privately may be a First World problem of sorts. If so, it is the underpinnings of our First World way of life.

What libraries are for.

I had a fascinating conversation with a librarian friend today. We were talking about ongoing collection development projects, the role of eBooks and emerging modes of media. Flashpoint: “But really. Don’t you really think that in a few years people will stop needing us since everything is online?”

In his defense, he was feeling a bit overwhelmed and bewildered by the pace of change. In his defense, there is much to feel overwhelmed and bewildered about.

The idea took me a bit by surprise. It was unsettling to hear a librarian speak the words “everything is online”. That was the kind of talk that used to rile me up in library school back in the early 2000’s. The speaker, usually a politician of some type, would get rewarded by a list of the many things that were, in fact, not online — encyclopedias, newspaper archives, scholarly journal articles, video, contemporary books.

Of course, all of that has changed. Which is to say, all of that is online now.

So here’s the point: that doesn’t matter. Librarians need to move beyond the old idea that our job is to provide a stronghold of printed information as authority against the less reputable, fadish online information sources. This was a dumb battle. We didn’t stand a chance. Mostly because there was nothing there to fight against.

The idea that libraries exist as some kind of print island oasis in a choatic ocean of digital resources is wrong-headed.

Everything is pretty much online now and libraries are more important than ever. Why? Because the companies that have made every aspect of our culture available and accessible to us online, want to sell that culture back to us.

I love Apple, Amazon and Google. They have pushed the information ecosystem forward in a big way. I love all three because they make information easy to locate, obtain and use. But they scare me a little, too. They scare me because they think of information in terms of consumption, as something that is consumed.

Apple’s iPod, iPhone and iPad are the 3 major vehicles for how I interact with my friends, my music, and my news. I love the iPad as an eReader. At the moment, I only read free, public domain or creative commons licensed books on the iPad because I don’t want to pay for my books.

Our library is working on implementing free download of EBSCO eBooks to the iPad and Nook with Overdrive access on the Kindle and iPad to follow. Still, I worry that the logistics of moving an eBook from the library collection to a personal eReader will not be as easy as the process of moving a purchased book from the Amazon or iBook stores to the native eReader apps. Will our patrons be willing to endure a little inconvenience to save money or will convenience win out? History places the chips on the side of convenience.

And so, we work diligently to explore, implement and develop eBooks plans and services that are highly convenient. Not because we are competing with Amazon for book customers or with Netflix for video watchers. We do this because we believe people shouldn’t have to pay tolls to access the products of their own culture.

I love to buy books. People should be free to buy books, but people shouldn’t have to buy them.

Apple, Amazon and Google are helping make sure everything is online. That’s their business model. It is a very effective business model.

Libraries are there to ensure that business models aren’t the only factor shaping the tools and terms of our cultural production. That’s what I find so fascinating about the work librarians should be doing.

For a long time, we worried that the Internet would somehow co-opt us, render us irrelevant and sweep us away. Now, librarians are learning to co-opt the tools of the Web to drive cultural production forward and keep the resources needed for good learning available to all.