The Death of Lendle

News hit yesterday about Amazon revoking Lendle’s (and apparently other eBook lending sites) API access, effectively shutting them down. They received an email from a no-reply Amazon address stating that Lendle did not “…serve the principal purpose of driving sales of products and services on the Amazon site.”

The shut down highlights yet another debate in eBook world, reminding me of the recent announcement by Harper Collins to limit the circulation of new titles they’ve licensed to libraries before the license expires. Lendle had only been in operation for around 6 weeks now and many of my friends had signed up and started sharing based on Lendle’s philosophy of “You can’t borrow if you don’t lend, and you can’t lend if you don’t buy.” In their open letter, they emphasized their commitment to supporting the purchase of eBooks by only allowing people on the site to borrow books once they’ve purchased other lendable books and shared them. While I mostly fall on the side of Lendle, this situation reminds me of peer-to-peer file sharing sites, which haven’t been so successful when trying to argue legality. While I can definitely understand a publisher or author’s concern of mass illegal sharing and downloading of “bootleg” books, sites like Lendle seem to only be facilitating what Amazon themselves now allow kindle users to do on a larger scale. Is that illegal?

This whole eBook lending situation brings up an interesting question I get asked a lot. People always want to know if I have a Kindle (yes) and if I love it (not really). I get a lot of confused looks at this point, because why wouldn’t a person who never leaves the house without at least 2 books in her purse not be totally in love with a device that can hold around 1500 books? Well, call me old-fashioned, but I really love the feel and smell of real books. I go to bookstores sometimes just feather out different books' pages to sniff them. Also, if you haven’t noticed, I’m a little obsessed with book design. Books themselves can be little works of art. A gorgeous cover, beautiful binding, the choice and weight of paper, it’s all part of the experience. When explaining, I always try to make the analogy to audiophiles; I consume music by downloading songs from iTunes and listening to them on my iPod at work. I’m not concerned about cover art or sound quality; I just want to listen to the song. But there are also the music geeks who will scour record stores and flea markets for rare or beautiful vinyl, because part of the experience of listening to music is the visual design of the cover, maybe the tactile feel of holding the album and the kind of sound the music has when played on a record player with good audio equipment. This isn’t to say that people who use kindles don’t appreciate these things or have bad taste in books, because hey, I do read books on my kindle now and then for the convenience. But for me, I usually need the whole thing. I’ve even noticed that I read a lot faster with real books than eBooks because I can see the progress I’m making every time I pick up the book and there is just something so satisfying for me psychologically when I physically turn a page.

Added to the whatever psychological and physical personal preferences I have is the whole Lendle issue. Basically, when you buy an eBook, you’re committing to the specific device only format, and by limiting your ability to lend/give away/re-sell the eBook, effectively, you don’t really “own” it. I can’t resell at a used book store if I hated it, I can’t give it to a friend after I’m done, and I can only lend it for a few weeks at a time.

One big thing I’d love to see is some kind of price break for people who want to bundle an eBook with a regular physical book purchase. I will never stop buying real books, but I would love to use my e-reader more. I usually want to buy the physical book to have for my book shelf (book trophies!) but if I’m going on a trip or the book is really long, I’d love to get an eBook version of it but I can stomach the idea of paying $11.50 for a real book on Amazon, and $9.99 for the eBook as well. I wish there was some kind of price break I could get when purchasing both books, because I’d gladly pay $11.50 for the real book and an extra $2 for an eBook version (kind of like how a lot of bands will include a free MP3 download of an album if you purchase the vinyl). However, not knowing the business model and costs and drawbacks behind the pricing decisions made by publishers and big booksellers like Amazon, I have no idea if that’s realistic.

I’d really like to hear everyone else’s thoughts on the Lendle situation, since I’m no legal expert. I know a lot of you are die hard Kindle/Nook fans (and let me repeat, there’s bupkiss wrong with that) and I’m curious to know if you have any concerns about this, or how often you buy regular books now that you have your e-reader. Also, I know a few of my friends are in publishing and I’d really love to know the decisions and realities that drive pricing and restriction policies because I can only see this from my own personal consumer perspective. Thoughts?

2 Responses so far.

  1. Jon K says:

    I honestly can't say I disagree with Amazon on this one. It's great and all that you need to share to borrow, but for all intents and purposes, what's to stop me from buying some undesirable eBook on sale for 99c and sharing that, while borrowing everything I ever wanted to read? There may be preventative measures that I don't know about, but the encouraging to buy angle seems like an afterthought for a company specifically designed to circumvent the purchase of eBooks.

    GO TEAM REAL BOOKS.

  2. andy says:

    I love my Kindle, but I agree that Amazon's practices are a bit Big Brotheresque. But I do think it's important that we not throw out the baby with the bathwater here. Just because Amazon (and, I would suspect, other eBook distributors) keep a tight grip on the product they put out doesn't mean that eBooks should go out the window altogether. I much prefer to get my eBooks in DRM free ePub or Mobi format, so I can read them on whatever device happens to be the latest and greatest in the future.

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