Amazon Aims to Take Out the Library

Amazon made another big announcement today, one that will likely spur lots of Kindle purchases for the holiday: If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you can now borrow books for a month at a time.

Amazon has already arguably put Borders out of business, and they’ve crippled Barnes & Noble.  Retail bookstores offer us readers little anymore that Amazon cannot.

Now they’re aiming at the public library.  I belong to mine, which has recently announced that patrons can borrow ebooks, but the process is something of a hassle.  Amazon, for the cost of a Prime membership, today announced that they will be loaning books to you on your Kindle (or device with a Kindle app).

Some will think this is a troubling trend.  Not me.  I think it’s great.  My new book (now only $2.99 on the Kindle) won’t even make it into any libraries.

What do you think?

  • http://www.butnotyet.com JoelR

    I hope you’re wrong about this. Not that Amazon is lending books, but that they’ll put the library out of business. I think it’s essential that there be a place where anyone in the community can get books (i.e. knowledge) for free. I’m hoping there will always be some cheapskates like me that won’t spring for a Prime membership. The library is a bit of hassle but I’ll keep patronizing them just to keep them in business.

  • Dan Hauge

    Basically the Netflix of books–I think it’s inevitable, and $79 a year is not overbearing, for most middle-upper class folks, anyway. But I agree with Joel that the public library, offering information for free, is an institution worth keeping. Actually, figuring out how to help libraries keep up with the technology and remain viable in the e-book world is a pretty worthy vocation, if anyone is so inclined.

    I’ll also mourn the gradual loss of the printed book. I’m figuring they will stick around but be less in number–main publishing houses will only bother with surefire bestsellers, with certain ‘specialty’ publishers going the extra mile to put out hardbacks from great literary talents and cutting edge up-and-comers.

    I may well give Amazon Prime a try. But we need to think hard about how to sustain what is unique and valuable about the library system.

    In the category of “personal question you may choose not to answer”, I’m really curious, Tony, as to how you feel the e-book endeavor has gone from a money-making standpoint–has it been worth it? (I’m one of those who went cheap and bought it at 2.99) Does it feel like a viable model, going forward?

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      Fine question, Dan. At this point, it matters what the book is. For the dissertation, ebook has been a very good route for me. But for my next trade book, I’ll go with a traditional publisher and insist that they spend as much time designing the ebook format(s) as well the print book.

  • http://www.travismamone.net Travis Mamone

    Being a library and information sciences major, I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, part of me is worried that I might have picked the wrong career . . . again! But on the other hand, I recently read any article by Seth Godin where he predicts that in the future libraries will no longer be places to find books, but will always be places to find information. Besides, with my tight budget, I’m all for borrowing e-books!

    • http://www.travismamone.net Travis Mamone

      Oh, wait, it’s an entirely free service. Never mind, looks like I’m keeping my job after all!

  • Phil Miller

    Being able to borrow oe book a month for $79 a year doesn’t really sound like a good deal to me, but it’s nice perk on top of all the other thing Amazon prime membership offers. Actually, I’ve been a member for five years or so now, and I’ve thought it’s been worth it ever since I signed up. I love that I can buy practically anything and have it shipped to my door in two days for free. With the addition of the streaming video stuff and the book thing, Amazon will keep my business for awhile.

    As far as e-books replacing paper, I think it’s inevitable now. I don’t necessarily mourn the loss, but there are some things that I still find real books more useful for. For instance, I’ve not found a good way to actually use a Kindle book in a reference situation. If I’m looking for a particular passage in a Kindle book, it can be very irritating. Yes, you can bookmark them, but sometimes there are things you don’t know you’ll want to look at again while you’re reading, but then you think of it. That’s really my only complaint with the Kindle.

  • Andrew

    From a pure self-interest standpoint, I think it’s great–depending on how many books Amazon will have available for borrowing.

    Beyond that, though, I’m concerned about how the market (in this case, Amazon) continues to restrict access to resources that were formerly available to all regardless of wealth. Libraries are a cultural commons–both as a physical space where people can go without being expected to buy something, and as a place where people can have access to information for free. Call me a socialist, but true cultural commons are hard to find right now, and we need to preserve those that do exist.

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      Hmmm, I think someone’s reading my blog whilst in a meeting… :-)

  • jcarlgregg

    It looks as if this offer doesn’t carry over into the Kindle apps for iPhone, Macbook, etc., which isn’t surprising since this ploy is about selling Kindles. It also looks like you can only borrow one book at a time. I’m sure they’re hoping to get people more in the habit of using their e-reader, and that you’ll take longer than a month and then purchase the book to finish reading. I’ve often used the “free chapter” feature to download books onto my iPhone as a way of discerning whether I really want to purchase.

    As a long-time Prime member, I agree with Phil that it has been a great deal for a long time that keeps getting better, although I am troubled by some of Amazon’s rapacious (read: Wal-mart-like) business practices. But even this latest feature doesn’t quite pursuade me to et a Kindle. I’m, instead, thinking of taking the leap into the world of tablets whenever the iPad3 is released.

  • angie

    At one book a month, it won’t be replacing the library anytime soon. But I do like the feature for the hard to get books and to supplement going to the library and my current book buying!

  • Jamey W

    While this might eliminate the need to go to the library for upper-middle class people, it does not eliminate the need for the actual public library. Unless Amazon starts shipping out Kindles for free to replace the public library system, it would be nothing short of a crime if this resulted in the closure of a single library.

  • Curtis

    Actually, Amazon is going after the publishers, not the libraries.

    Libraries will always be a place to get information from all sources — most of the foot traffic into public libraries today comes from people coming in for internet computers, not coming in to read a dead-tree books. Libraries are funded by the local community. As long as the community perceives a need to provide equal access to information, they will keep funding libraries. For most communities, this need is growing, not shrinking.

    On the other hand, publishing on paper is declining, and that hurts publishers, not libraries. Anyone can now “publish” their own e-book without a publisher. That ebook can then be shared by anyone at no cost, whether it is libraries, Amazon, or your next door neighbor doing the sharing doesn’t matter. The ebook is cutting the publisher out of the picture, not the lender.

    Publishers know this too. The program is limited to 5,000 titles because none of the six largest US publishers are participating in the Amazon program. The publishers do not want this to happen. Libraries are the largest purchaser of books in the country, and most books must be re-purchased every 10 years because of damage in circulation. Ebooks take this library cash cow away from publishers because ebooks never wear out.

    Amazon and ebooks are killing publishers, not libraries.

  • Dan Hauge

    OK, the more I find out about the specifics (Kindle only, one book per month, small catalog), that’s not even worth $6.50 a month to me. I’ll be holding out.

  • Brian

    I agree with Dan…unless it’s any e-book, not worth it…

  • jcarlgregg

    @Brian, I couldn’t disagree more. Netflix and Amazon Prime are some of the best money I spend each year. There is so much more on Netlix DVD and Instant that I have time to watch. Check out the podcast Filmspotting (http://filmspotting.net/), and you’ll find your queue overflowing with options. And Amazon Prime is completely worth it for free two-day shipping anywhere in the country.

  • http://www.knightopia.com/blog Steve K.

    This announcement just pushed me over the edge to purchasing an Amazon Prime membership, because: 1) I already do a lot of my online shopping on Amazon, so 2-day shipping on everything is a plus; 2) I now own a smart TV that allows me to stream movies from Amazon On Demand (meaning: I’ll probably drop my Netflix subscription now, like everyone else); 3) I do quite a bit of reading on my iPhone Kindle app while I’m traveling (on airplanes, during flight) so the ability to borrow e-books now is great!; and 4) Our daughter will be getting a Kindle Fire for Christmas (shhh, don’t tell her yet, it’s a secret!) so for her to be able to “check out” e-books is perfect. The Prime deal hasn’t been attractive enough yet for me to pull the trigger, but this put it over the top.

    2-day shipping + streaming movies/TV shows + borrowing e-books for ~$6.50/month (- $11.99/month for Netflix) = a package deal I can believe in (and actually save money by doing)

    Will Amazon “take out” (kill) the public library? No, but these innovations from Amazon (and other tech companies) are forcing public libraries — like many older institutions (e.g., post offices, banks, etc.) — to adjust/adapt/change to meet the needs and demands of the culture we are living in today (not 50 years ago). And, I’m with Tony — that’s a good thing.

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