A few months ago, I read a persuasive post about why Amazon would never enable library lending. The post left little room for doubt, saying the behemoth online retailer would never ever lend, “[n]ot unless Amazon loses its head. Not unless another company starts beating it on the basis of library book support. Not unless there’s a gun put to its head.”
Well, the fact that Amazon and OverDrive this morning announced a library-to-Kindle lending feature is why using the word “never” is almost always a losing proposition. As I said on Twitter, “After Kindle lending, the deluge“—meaning I think this is going to push ebook usage in libraries up to an unprecedented level.
But let’s take a look at why Amazon might pull a move that surprised a huge number of people. That this is a boon for OverDrive is clear, but where is Amazon’s interest? It’s in the patron-customer conversion (though it also has the added effect of convincing hundreds of thousands of librarians and staffers around the country to stop telling patrons that the Nook and Sony readers are the only major dedicated ereaders compatible with library materials).
As others have pointed out, it is perhaps telling that the Amazon release refers only to Kindle customers, not patrons: the new feature will “allow Kindle customers to borrow Kindle books from over 11,000 libraries” [emphasis added]. So all the folks doing the lending, they’re Kindle customers from the start, taking only a brief detour into patron territory, and hopefully back into customer mode “if you check out the book again, or subsequently buy it.”
Now, that’s good business, and since this is an unprecedented boon for library patrons in terms of ebook access, I’m pleased that e-reading has gotten that much easier. Win for patrons, and residual win for libraries that don’t have to be the bearers of incompatible Kindle news.
However, the storage of patron annotations and checkout data has me concerned: “your notes will be there just as you left them, perfectly Whispersynced,” says Amazon. At the very least, I’d like to opt out of this “give Amazon my interests” data program, and I’m hoping once more details emerge that we’ll see such an option.
What that line from Amazon implies is that some amount of data—the annotations linked to the title and an account identifier at the very least—are stored in perpetuity. Anything tied to library patrons stored in perpetuity by a retail operation makes me uncomfortable. And I believe it should make librarians uncomfortable. Admittedly, if history is any indicator, it may not make patrons uncomfortable—but do we have an obligation to stand up for privacy rights, even if it flies in the face of self-evident ease of use arguments?
I believe we do, but I’ll have to save that for another post. In the meantime, let me know how the Amazon lending feature is likely to affect your library and demand from your patrons.
Also see LJ’s story for more details on the new lending program as they develop.