In the shadow of big news about Amazon's new, super-cheap, maybe-iPad-killing-maybe-not tablet, The Wall Street Journal reported this week that Amazon is in discussions with publishers to allow book "rentals" as part of Amazon Prime subscriptions. Amazon doesn’t have the kinks worked out yet (and no publishers have agreed), but they may only offer older titles, and limit the number of books a subscriber could borrow each month.
I’m a Kindle user and an Amazon Prime subscriber. My reading experience is split about 50/50 between physical books and ebooks, not because of any romantic attachment I have to Old Book Smell, but because I’m a miser and am always looking for the best deal. I wanted to read “Bossypants” the day it came out, so I bought it for my Kindle. On the other hand, if I’m looking for an older book, chances are a used copy will be much cheaper than the $9-15 Kindle version.
I’m also an avid patron of my local library, in order to feed my crippling weakness for young adult fiction. The Kansas City Public Library offers ebooks, but the Kindle has long been unsupported by digital lending providers like OverDrive. Amazon announced that they were working with OverDrive on Kindle Library Lending back in April (apparently set to begin sometime this month). OverDrive offers a solid catalog, including new books. For example, KCPL's new books list now features "Cinderella Ate My Daughter," ) which I've been dying to read. If OverDrive and Amazon do start allowing Kindle lending this month, I'll be all over that one.
I worry that this rental service will mirror Amazon's free Prime Instant Videos. Compared to Netflix, Amazon offers little in the way of new or interesting Instant videos. I've used the service to buy TV episodes (hello, "Mad Men") and rent new releases for 24 hours, but when I peruse their free offerings, I have a hard time finding something I haven’t seen and want to watch.
Would this rental service — with its stock of "older titles" — be filled with '80s romance novels and multiple versions of "A Tale of Two Cities?" Amazon already offers quite a few free (or cheap-as-free) downloads of classics. Not gonna lie, I didn't hesitate to download a free illustrated version of "Pride and Prejudice" (now 95 cents, everyone. Be advised).
OverDrive’s partnership with Kindle looks like it will improve the experience for all Kindle readers. Traditional publishers are extremely uneasy with the brave new world of digital publishing; maybe the rental book system is more appealing than allowing library downloads that, to the publisher, look like lost revenue. Unfortunately for them, ebook library lending already exists, and the demand for it is strong. Amazon will have to offer a benefit to readers to distinguish itself from libraries, unless its clear bid to be the media empire of the ages is enough. (In the future, will we call libraries "Amazons?")
In the meantime, I’ll breathlessly await the ability to check out "Crossed" on my Kindle in November.