March 22, 2018

After Kindle Lending, the Deluge

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.

Josh Hadro About Josh Hadro

Josh Hadro (@hadro on Twitter) is the former Executive Editor of Library Journal.



  1. Thanks for writing this Josh.

    I think one of the most telling things in the article is that it refers to “Kindle books” over and over, not library ebooks, or OverDrive ebooks, but Kindle books, which hints pretty heavily at a THIRD format for OverDrive ebooks and that those Kindle books wont work on devices like the Nook and Sony eReaders. I wrote more here.

  2. Jessie at Messenger Public Library in North Aurora (IL) says:

    Good catch, Josh. And good point, Bobbi. I’m cautiously optimistic that this will all shake down for the best, but am a little leery of the stored info and the possibility of another format that will undoubtedly exclude devices other than the Kindle.

  3. I think it’s important to weigh the benefit of the retained information against privacy concerns. As a patron, I might prefer my checkout history be retained so that I could see that book I read a year ago. And I might see value in receiving recommendations based on previous checkouts. That said, I do think it will be important to educate patrons about the data that’s being kept, and to advocate on their behalf without being too parental. As you wrote when it comes to choosing privacy, people often don’t.

    I’m just happy that we’ll finally be able to offer something to Kindle owners, even if it comes with limitations.

  4. @Bobbi I’m not bothered if a third format for “Kindle books” is added. Libraries purchase many types of formats already, both open and proprietary, and customers have always determined what format works best for them. Sure, it’s not the perfect solution but it’s a step forward.

    Perhaps more pressure should be put on OverDrive to improve the user experience of their site to alleviate concerns over format. For example, if you could set a device/format preference in your OverDrive account, formats could be filtered for you automatically after logging in.

  5. I’m just speculating, but it sounds to me like OverDrive won’t actually be distributing “Kindle-format” ebooks per se, just doing the equivalent of instructing Amazon “make this ebook available to the Kindle and/or Kindle apps registered to patron X for Y amount of time”. In other words, Amazon is doing the distribution and OverDrive is just brokering the checkout transaction.

    If I’m correct, that would explain how Whispersync annotations would be an easy-to-achieve feature. It would also mean that Kindle would instantly become the easiest device to use OverDrive with — no downloads, no Adobe Digital Editions, and fewer steps to follow before you can start reading.

  6. I think it’s fascinating that this comes the day after the announcement about Recorded Books and Ingram, an announcement which has now vanished without a trace.

    OverDrive gets some very good buzz related to this announcement, even though there are almost no details, not even a start date.

    The other interesting piece is that the newsies are calling Amazon’s entrance into the library space further signs of the library apocalypse. It says something about the influence, or perceived influence, of Amazon more than it does libraries.

    Whatever personal info Amazon does or doesn’t retain, it will certainly get an awful lot of marketing info, which is itself a very marketable commodity, as well as a lot of good press.

  7. Well, as a Kindle user, it is my choice whether I choose to annotate or not, and I don’t need nanny librarians raising histrionics over such a non-issue, thank you.

  8. Anyone who buys from Amazon must realize that the company already has a record of the titles purchased from or through them. I certainly would want an “opt out” option, but don’t think it likely. Now if Amazon allowed downloading to other brands of ereaders, we’ld really have something.

  9. @Karen — education is absolutely essential, but more and more, there isn’t even any direct patron contact as people download from home, and send materials to their devices. As that increasingly becomes the case, choices about offerings and appropriate services quickly become de facto standards.

    @Galen — I think you’re exactly right, and you make a great point — this could leapfrog Amazon materials out in front of everything else. That’s part of what makes me so concerned; it’s a more flexible service, but it’s also got a lot more invested in it’s broader retail mechanism.

    @Marlene — didn’t disappear entirely, we’ve got a story in the works on the Ingram/RB bit, look for that soon. And yes, Amazon stands to get an awful lot of marketing info into the habits of library readers, data that has traditionally been off-limits.

    @Linda — absolutely, anyone who has ever purchased through Amazon should be aware that there’s a purchase record. But library patrons aren’t purchasing. They’re borrowing, just using an Amazon AZW file. Why should anyone who’s ever borrowed a book from a library in a certain format have a permanent record on file with Amazon?

  10. Johanna Bowen says:

    The saddest part is that the media just don’t understand what really happened here. Library users who happen to own Kindles can now borrow library eBooks and read them on the Kindle device. Previous use of library eBooks was limited to desktop and laptop and some tablet users. Focus is on the library provision of eBooks, not on the expansion to Kindle devices for access to library materials. Now, what will EBSCO do? NetLibrary eBooks dominate in colleges and no one knows whether they will talk to the other players to open up those books too.


  1. […] linked to the title and an account identifier at the very least—are stored in perpetuity,” wrote Josh Hadro, an associate editor at Library Journal, on the LJ Insider blog. “Anything tied to library […]

  2. […] more Orwellian technology name than Whispersync? Josh Hadro spells out a concern worth tracking on Library Journal: At the very least, I’d like to opt out of this “give Amazon my interests” data program, and […]

  3. […] I'm Reading Librarian's Hope for a "Seamless Experience" with Amazon Kindle – Library JournalAfter Kindle Lending, the Deluge « LJ InsiderKindle Library Lending and OverDrive – What it means for libraries and schoolsIngram Announces New […]

  4. […] This erosion of our expectation to privacy is even starting to affect libraries. While I’m excited that Amazon has finally decided to play nice with libraries and allow library ebook lending on the Kindle via OverDrive, Amazon collects all kinds of data about Kindle users and seems to plan to continue to do so even in a library setting. Sarah of Librarian in Black has a lot of questions about Kindle Library Lending, including some about patron privacy, and Josh Hadro blogged for Library Journal about privacy concerns. […]

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