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Amazon's e-book rental thrust

Books in 2025: The Future of the Book World

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Sep 12, 2011, 11:31am Top

So, about that report that Amazon wants to tack all-you-can-eat e-book lending onto its $79/year Prime subscription.

At first blush, troubling. But to some degree it's at least a little more honest than selling e-books, no?

Still, $79/year is a bit steep, even if it covers other stuff like free priority shipping and their video streaming service.

Edited: Sep 12, 2011, 11:50am Top

On the consumer end, it all depends on what you get for the money. $79 year is nothing, if you get access to a fair number of books. I mean, I spent $100 in the last seven days!

For book culture generally, I think it's the logical out-working of what I've been talking about for years now. Ownership is moving to rental. A complex market with no bottlenecks is moving to a single vertically-integrated "stack," with unprecedented control and monitoring from the center.

For libraries it's particularly disastrous. Libraries need participating across the income spectrum. Skim the wealthier, more book-obsessed people off by letting them trade opportunity cost away for a low real cost, and what you're left with will often be unsustainable.

For LibraryThing? Well, it's a vertical stack. Amazon is already drawing social-networking into that stack—their sites and services; others will hang. Book-rental keeps you "connected" to a store in a way that a straight-up sale doesn't. In such a context, retailer-social integration offers significant advantages to consumers. Sites like LibraryThing are pinched by that. My feeling is that sites like us will survive by zagging while everyone else zigs, by catering to the people who care about paper books, who are passionate enough to catalog their books non-automatically and seek out fora more interesting or refined than that offered by your average Kindle reader.

Sep 12, 2011, 11:48am Top

Interesting; it would certainly make me consider paying for Prime, if the details were reasonable.

I agree that it would be a disaster for libraries, though.

Sep 12, 2011, 12:09pm Top

#2 by timspalding> On the consumer end, it all depends on what you get for the money. $79 year is nothing, if you get access to a fair number of books. I mean, I spent $100 in the last seven days!

I'd consider $79 a year nothing if at the end of it I owned something.

Sep 12, 2011, 12:21pm Top

I am very curious to see how this plays out. I had never heard of Amazon Prime before reading this thread but as it is restricted to residents of continental US, I don't see it as something that will become available north of the boarder any time soon.

I do know that if it was available in Canada, I wouldn't pay a subscription fee to borrow books. Amazon.ca offers a different selection of e-books for purchase north of the boarder, and what I understand to be a reduced selection for download to the Kindle compared to what is available for Kobo e-readers.

Still, an interesting marketing position to further establish a monopoly on products and services.

Sep 12, 2011, 12:49pm Top

>4 brightcopy:

But you and I are weird. That's clearer and clearer. And we will be fewer and fewer as time goes by.

Edited: Sep 12, 2011, 1:27pm Top

First thing that comes to mind:



Sep 12, 2011, 1:37pm Top

What ever happened to those DVDs that would turn black after a few days—video rentals without return. I'm thinking of creating books that burst into flame when you stop paying the rental fee... :)

Sep 12, 2011, 1:46pm Top

Points to theapparatus for precognition.

I bought one DIVX when CC discontinued them: Another 48 Hours

I don't think we're that weird, though, Tim. Part of the problem I have with it is trying to compare apples to oranges. I try to compare it against Netflix's streaming, but then I run up against the fact that books and TV/movies are very different. There was enough demand to rent video long before Netflix existed. And yet, other than niche operations there was never enough demand to rent books. Part of this is due to libraries but another big part I think is due to lack of demand.

Sure, this may wind up being another apples to oranges trying to compare books to e-books. They definitely have some differences between them. But I'm just not sure the people who are dedicated readers enough to shell out $79/year in advance just to rent ebooks are the same people who are currently buying MMPBs and tossing them when done.

Maybe amazon knows better than me, though. In theory, they should be able to figure it out with market research. Then again, they should have been able to figure out New Coke was a bad idea via market research, too.

Sep 12, 2011, 1:51pm Top

>6 timspalding:

As in most things that go and come around again, the cachet of real books will wax and wane. Sure, the technologies will make reading another thing altogether, and our brains will be changed, as well; see The Shallows by Nicholas Carr.

But collecting the physical object, and some even appreciating the older style of experiencing the printed word, will not completely pass. I can even envision a new industry to support the demand for 'reproduction books.'

Sep 12, 2011, 1:53pm Top

>I'm thinking of creating books that burst into flame when you stop paying the rental fee

Considering that's basically what happened with those copies of 1984 and the kindle(?)....

Sep 12, 2011, 2:04pm Top

I'd love a feature that allowed me to dip into a very large number of books for a flat rate. I say "dip" because for me the key point wouldn't be being able to read full texts of big authors, but just being able to check references and so forth. This sort of thing is why I have a "library" of books in the first place.

Sep 12, 2011, 2:09pm Top

Just to clarify, one of my main disagreements with the feasibility is the price point. Clearly if they charges $1/year for it, I think it'd be outrageously popular. If they charged $1000/year, practically no one would do it.

So really, the question is how close to the sweet spot $79/year is (and if the other Prime enticements are enough). And if $79 is too much, can they go low enough to hit the sweet spot while still pulling in enough money to pay the publishers and make a profit.

Sep 12, 2011, 2:11pm Top

I think the continued focus on "$79 for ebook lending" is pretty misleading, since it would come as part of a package. I'd say the free two-day shipping is still the most enticing part of Amazon Prime, and that can be valuable even to non-readers since Amazon sells all sorts of stuff.

Sep 12, 2011, 2:13pm Top

>13 brightcopy: Heh, we were thinking along the same lines.

I'd probably be willing to pay $20 for the ebook part; the movies are worthless to me, and even though I think the shipping is great, I'd be reluctant to pay too much for it--maybe $20 as well, or $25.

Amazon is currently offering student Prime for half off; it's currently not appealing enough, but with the ebook bonus it just might win me over.

Edited: Sep 12, 2011, 2:20pm Top

BTW, you can basically get Amazon Prime shipping for free for up to a year if you sign up for Amazon Mom (also free). You don't even have to be a mom.

ETA: And considering the ubiquity of free super saver shipping, I don't really think the Prime shipping discounts matter much for most mainstream buyers.

Edited: Sep 12, 2011, 2:22pm Top

#2: For book culture generally, I think it's the logical out-working of what I've been talking about for years now. Ownership is moving to rental
Or borrowing perhaps. My sister who once had a lot of books changed from being a teacher to being a librarian. She now gets almost all books from the local (Canterbury UK) library. For myself I like to possess them and love having them around the house. Perhaps I'm the sort of person that 2WonderY is thinking of when he/she says "But collecting the physical object, and some even appreciating the older style of experiencing the printed word, will not completely pass"

Sep 12, 2011, 2:35pm Top

>16 brightcopy: It's not so much the cost as the time. Free super saver shipping is SLOW. Besides using a slower shipping method, they often wait days just to ship the thing out in the first place. On my most recent order, it took 5 days from when I placed the order to when it was shipped.

Sep 12, 2011, 2:59pm Top

is it slower than regular shipping?

Sep 12, 2011, 3:45pm Top

>9 brightcopy: brightcopy
there was never enough demand to rent books.

Actually, when lending libraries first got started, in the early 19th century, they were renting the books. This is not a new idea.

Sep 12, 2011, 3:50pm Top

It's a viable model in countries without public libraries. India has quite a few private lending libraries.

Sep 12, 2011, 3:56pm Top

20, 21> Pardon me for not specifying that I was talking about in the United States (you know, the country Prime is available in) and some time in the last century. :P

18> The point I'm making is that I don't think most mainstream users will find paying $80 a year a good deal to avoid having to wait a few days or a week longer than free shipping (or just pay a few bucks shipping for the few things they really want right away).

And as another data point, I actually find SSS most frequently comes as soon as regular shipping for me. Perhaps it's due to differences in the warehouse/delivery chain in Minnesota versus New York.

Sep 12, 2011, 4:00pm Top

I don't think I've ever paid for regular shipping, so I can't compare.

I've gotten the impression that people in general really don't like to wait, though. Remember SantaThing? ;)

Sep 12, 2011, 4:01pm Top

#23 by _Zoe_> I've gotten the impression that people in general really don't like to wait, though. Remember SantaThing? ;)

I get the impression people don't like to pay for things.

Remember... well, life? ;)

Sep 12, 2011, 4:17pm Top

> 24 I don't know - I mean, I agree, but $79/year is still cheaper than cable, and you don't end up owning the shows you watch there.

My (initial gut reaction, not well thought through) guess is that this is just Amazon's latest attempt at lending ebooks. I think they were getting sick of the whole "Overdrive works with everything but the Kindle" mantra, so they wanted to get some kind of Amazon-Overdrive connection in place - but certainly didn't want to undercut their ebook sales.

Honestly, $79 seems cheap to me, compared to how often some people I know purchase/borrow ebooks. In many peoples minds, that probably does compete with the free-from-a-library option, especially since most of the books in our Overdrive library are checked out and people have to wait for them. After the Kindle/Overdrive option is launched (supposedly in September, just in time to boost Christmas Kindle sales), I'm sure they'll reevaluate pricing Spring/Summer and adjust accordingly.

So yeah, I agree this seems bad for libraries - and it'll just get worse without actual ownership.

Sep 12, 2011, 5:15pm Top

So essentially £50 to join a library? Um. no thanks. Not of course that we lowly peons out in the sticks get such an opportunity. Fortunetly we have free libraries out here anyway.

Yet another reason not to go the kindle route and stick with open format devices.

Sep 12, 2011, 5:34pm Top

>So essentially £50 to join a library?

That's probably about how much of your taxes go to paying for your local library.

Edited: Sep 12, 2011, 5:54pm Top

One thing that hasn't been talked about much but was in the WSJ article - it looks like you'll only be able to read these rented e-books on a Kindle (or other Amazon tablet).

ETA: Though that could possibly include the Kindle app on other devices. Though who knows how that will shake down with Apple's moneylust.

Sep 12, 2011, 5:51pm Top

Oh, and Amazon wants exclusivity (though currently they're mostly asking for backlist titles).

Sep 12, 2011, 5:52pm Top

#27 - yes. Well I doubt it's that much, but probably somewhere in that order of magnitude. Hence why would I want to spend that much again ??

Sep 12, 2011, 7:50pm Top

I don't see why they're asking for exclusivity. Amazon's ebooks plan gets monopoly through scale and social effects. It doesn't need to scare publishers away by asking for a monopoly it'll mostly achieve anyway.

Sep 12, 2011, 9:09pm Top

I don't really see that requiring people to own a Kindle will be much of a problem; they're relatively cheap compared to the cost of the books.

What will be a problem is if there's not a very good selection of books available, and that's seeming more likely if Amazon is asking too much from the publishers already.

Nov 3, 2011, 1:52pm Top

My favorite part of the announcement is where it says you can use this "as frequently as one book per month." Golly gee whiz! A WHOLE book every month?

Nov 3, 2011, 2:16pm Top

Still, I have to say that I'm getting closer to getting a Kindle and Prime. Every little incentive helps. Except I can't figure out how to see a list of what books are available, and I'm not going to pay money without knowing exactly what I'm getting.

Nov 4, 2011, 3:24am Top

Zoe, none of the Big Six publishers are signed on at the moment so what is offered is a mixture of Amazon published books, some authors that have made Amazon deals for their ebooks and other such things. Can a person find $79 worth of reading material there? One book a month for a year comes to $6.58 per book. Like you, I'm not quite sure if that's worth signing up for Prime but it's getting my attention. Well, at least it's not scaring me off. Add the streaming video stuff and whatever else they wanna throw in in the near future and I might sign up for the 22 cents per day Prime runs. If it didn't work for me I'd just cancel it.

Of course the price of a Kindle goes in there somewhere. I'm getting a Fire as a gift so I'll have thirty days to play with Prime and see if it's worth it for me.

Nov 4, 2011, 12:08pm Top

>36 VisibleGhost: Thanks for that info. Yeah, it certainly wouldn't be worth $79 for the book loans alone. But I figure I'd pay $20 for the quick shipping, and student Prime is only $39, so it's getting pretty close to worth it. Except that it sounds like the book selection is bad, so I won't be getting Prime quite yet.

Jan 6, 2012, 4:10pm Top

I got a Kindle Fire for Christmas and love it for the access to free books and the apps, altough I spend reading time playing sudoku or watching cartoons on the Netflix app (movies aren't synched and looked dubbed). Ereaders are replacing the codex technology, a phenomenally successful tech that has endured for 2,000+ years. I think it really will replace paper books entirely, after physical books exhaust buyers of folio editions, etc. That will take a generation or two, at least. Books like the Bible will probably always remain in print, but I think print tech has gotten a burn notice and the public won't welcome it back. Ditto batteries- once a replacement is discovered for battery tech, nobody will think twice about using them over what's new (excluding safety and health concerns.)

There are two things about ebooks I really love- access to books that are out of print and what I see as an unprecedented facility to matrix data. I share Tim's dubious view of stacked access with a single point of control. I worry about oversight and my elibrary disappearing- information wants to be free, but I think that the rest of that idea is 'to disappear'.

I'm a freak, a curve-buster, in that I have more books than I will ever be able to read. Maybe other LTers will see themselves in that? I'm a collector, and buying books and having them around me satisfies a craving. I also buy and store art, EC comics, hand-made items, and wind-up gizmos. I don't have them out but I know that they're there. I don't see that carrying over as well into ebooks, but then again I don't see why not. It just doesn't work for me.

damn gotta go. ebook theory is interesting.

Edited: Jan 8, 2012, 3:33pm Top

I should have at least answered the question; I think I've learned nothing or too much living in DC. For me, the question is moot. I just signed up for the free trial. I did it because I wanted to try the streaming video- if the audio/video synch I might keep it. The free book a month and 2 day shipping don't mean much to me now, but a few years ago when I was ordering a lot through Amazon I signed up for Prime as a fast way to get materials. I've noticed that people are willing to pay a premium for convenience, sometimes quite a dear one. Since we're not talking improved quality of life matters (I can see paying a steep premium for a place in the city because of the impact on quality of life), I'd say the premium applies to speed of access. I read Gleick's Faster, and all I remember was 'blah blah blah, everything's getting faster.' I mean, he could have just cut it down to a page and everybody would have been happy, but no.

The microwave ruined this country. I'll let you guys know if I keep thy Prime membership and why. Seems like Amazon is testing the waters to see what floats- free 2 day shipping, free books, and free streaming audio and video.

ETA- So it looks like the audio/visual synch on Prime membership is good. I wonder if the problem with a/v on Netlfix app is built in? That's a problem with proprietary content delivery devices- the manufacturer's incentive is to make their material best, first.

Tim, I was in the local lie-berry yesterday and the place reeked of urine. If ereaders do away with libraries, where will the homeless go to relieve themselves?

Jan 8, 2012, 4:53pm Top

Your nook.

Jan 8, 2012, 6:58pm Top

Nice one. BTW, I borrowed your nook.

Jan 8, 2012, 11:19pm Top

You forgot to ask where they'll go to keep warm.

Jan 9, 2012, 12:03am Top

A binder, just like a Kindle I guess.

Jan 9, 2012, 12:23am Top

Fire. Duh. ;)

Jan 10, 2012, 6:28pm Top

Pardon me, I dropped a ball. Anybody seen it?

Jan 26, 2012, 10:20am Top

OK, I've had my Kindle for a month and have found that I use it about equally for games and reading, I really like having access to books that have been out of publication for a long time, that not receiving a hard copy doesn't bug me but not being able to pass on a read hard copy does. Also, all things being equal, I'd edging away from the ebook version to hard copy. Actually, that's the problem- all things are never equal between the two. The books I'm acquiring for my Kindle are books that are now either $30 from a university press or free (The Crowd; A Study of the Popular Mind) or beach books that are impulse buys but have a much cheaper used alternative. I guess the heart of the matter, as far as my usage is concerned, is price (and by extension availability) rather than physical possession.

Feb 5, 2012, 1:52pm Top

Something else I've noticed, I don't add Kindle books to my LT library unless I have too in order to review them. My county library allows for audio downloads of books and I've never added those I've finished, either. Part of the reason I don't add the Kindle books is lazyness; most of the books I download are free OOP and I went nuts. Another part of it is that I have probably disassociated ebooks from hard-copy books, which I add as soon as they come through the door.

May 30, 2012, 12:04am Top

I saw this the other day and thought I'd share: http://bit.ly/KV5eSo
Basically, it mentions an author with a $.99 Kindle book (of which he pockets a fraction of every sale) getting paid over $2 (by Amazon) every time someone "checks out" his book for free through the Kindle Library Lending program.

So the author makes way more money when someone "borrows" his book than when he sells it. These are crazy times.

It's amazing how far Amazon will go, even planning on loosing money in the short term, just to get customers and authors to sign-on with them. Often for exclusivity. I wonder how long stuff like this can last?

May 30, 2012, 12:59am Top

I wonder how long stuff like this can last?

Until they've got enough lock-in to stop worrying.

May 30, 2012, 6:47am Top

Last week came news that Waterstones, a chain of bookshops which has a presence in many UK towns, is going to sell Kindles in-store. They are also intending to set up free wi-fi areas and I understand that any e-books purchased from Amazon using the wi-fi in a Waterstones's shop will earn Waterstones a cut. But not if you do it from outside or using 3G. Be interesting to see how this goes.
PS. On a slightly different tack, sometime ago they decided to drop the apostrophe from the name (used to have "Waterstone's" on the shop fronts) partly because of the impact of the web and e-commerce. I dithered a bit before deciding to write "a Waterstones's shop" above.

Edited: May 30, 2012, 10:37am Top

I've had a Kindle since Christmas. I use it more for watching Netflix movies than reading, and have pretty much stopped paying for books on it because the price is so out of line as an access model rather than an ownership model. It's almost galling to me, esp. when the ebook costs more than a hard copy. Plus, the editing tends to be free-form. I still download out of print books on it, and there are some real bargains (Frederic Brown's 'Night of the Jabberwock' and 'The Screaming Mimi' are just a couple of bucks, and I paid several times that for my copies 10 years ago when they were hard to find. Double plus, Bezos popularized the worker drone blue shirt and for that alone he should pay dearly.

May 30, 2012, 10:00am Top

Things look bad for book sellers, authors and readers, but I can't help but think that some unknown or unsuspected variable will be introduced that will tip the balance in favor of access and users.

Of course, I'm just a guy waiting for the revolution to begin.

May 30, 2012, 10:08am Top

*throws fist into the air*

May 30, 2012, 10:19am Top

#51 - what's interesting about that story and seldom seemed to be mentioned, is that Waterstones have been selling ereaders (of every type bar the kindle) for past 4 years. AT least. And Epub (eg no amazon) ebooks at their online shop. SO far I've heard no information if they will continue to be supporting the epub model or have sold out completely to the amazon formats.

May 30, 2012, 12:25pm Top

According to this article, Amazon's Kindle Direct publishing recently changed its guidelines to no longer accept public domain books. I'm not sure, are the public domain books I've been downloading made available through Direct Publishing?


If I've understood it correctly, that's just evil. I'm already an editor for Project Gutenberg (anyone can be, just sign up and I encourage you to) and this is one more reason for me to give more time to it.

Edited: May 30, 2012, 12:52pm Top

#56 by SomeGuyInVirginia> From what I've read, this is actually a GOOD thing:


You can still get public domain books for free on the Kindle. For instance, just go to Gutenberg's site where they have Kindle versions (which you probably already know if you're an editor there). I think it was a big problem with people trying to sell 1000 different "versions" of the public domain Alice in Wonderland. I believe it greatly decreased the signal:noise ratio of other book listing in the Kindle store.

May 30, 2012, 1:00pm Top

#56 - The "public domain ban" is an attempt to crush the growing "kindle book spam" that's growing. It's a good thing. It sounds like Public Domain books will always be available in the Kindle store.

The problem they're facing is these jerks that scrape a Public Domain book (often from Project Gutenberg) into the free kindle ebook maker and sell it for $1. They banned one "publisher" recently because he cut and pasted the same book 6 times into 6 different files and tweaked it just enough to be able to declare it "new". Then he loaded them all up for sale a dollar a piece. So it didn't cost him anything but 20 mins. of his time, yet now there are 6 more junk books for customers to wade through to find something of value. It was getting out of control.

At the moment, the only way to police that kinda mess is to get stricter on the uploads or build a faithful community like Project Gutenberg.

I love Project Gutenberg and am reading through Edgar Rice Burroughs Barsoom series thanks to folks like you!

May 30, 2012, 2:31pm Top

#55: Yes - the local branch in Inverness has had the Sony e-reader on display for quite a long time and it will be interesting see if this continues. My own guess is "NOT". I've followed this in the business sections of the press and hard details seem hard to come by. One report I read likened it to "suicide" or "turkeys voting for Christmas".

May 30, 2012, 2:33pm Top

Jeebus trav, don't thank me, I've done very little and anybody can sign up to edit. In fact, they have an open call on the website. In fact again, you should sign up, dude.

I still think the new rule does not benefit Kindle users and paves the way for Amazon to start charging for books that are now easily available for free on the site. If they wanted to do away with spam they could have written the rule to say that people could still use the service to publish public domain books but couldn't charge a fee for downloading it.

Edited: May 30, 2012, 2:50pm Top

But aren't the FREE ones still available in the Kindle store?


All they did was say "You can't charge for something that's free, because you're clearly just doing this as a scam and it makes it harder to find the free version or any other books in the store." I don't really get why this is such a bad thing.

May 30, 2012, 2:53pm Top

Bright, you bore me. Buh bye.

May 30, 2012, 3:00pm Top

What a bizarre response to a legitimate question. I think you must not be understanding both trav and my responses and questions.

Edited: May 30, 2012, 3:12pm Top

More specifically, you said:
If they wanted to do away with spam they could have written the rule to say that people could still use the service to publish public domain books but couldn't charge a fee for downloading it.

I think the key here is that they've done basically what you ask. In their notice, they said they're not allowing "multiple, undifferentiated copies of public domain titles". So the only thing they're allowing in addition to what you have asked is you can take a PD title, make a really nicely formatted edition, add PD illustrations, etc. and charge for it (people are doing this in addition to the spammers).

You also asked:
I'm not sure, are the public domain books I've been downloading made available through Direct Publishing?

The answer is "no", unless you were paying for them before. Then the answer is "no", unless you were paying for an existing version that someone just uploaded and slapped a price on.

I'm sorry if answering your questions bores you.

May 30, 2012, 4:40pm Top

On public-domain books:


Alas Celebrities with Big Dicks like Jay-Z, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, and Many More is no longer available. But I managed to add Celebrities with Tiny Dicks like Eminem, Ashton Kutcher, Fred Durst, Howard Stern, and More to my library.

May 30, 2012, 8:22pm Top

On penis books:

There's one called "Penis Enlargement Methods: Fact and Phallusy". I think this is brilliant.

Edited: May 30, 2012, 8:45pm Top

>>65 timspalding: You know, there really is an ocean of money out there.

May 30, 2012, 9:03pm Top

>66 _Zoe_:

That's awesome.

May 31, 2012, 7:19am Top

I'm wondering if the title of this thread had any subliminal influence on the direction it's taken. :) /


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