The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Kindle Keeps Getting Better?

Amazon Kindle 3

I’ve written before about how much I’ve enjoyed my Kindle 3 since I got it, and that was only after one week of using it. I’ve always carried reading material with me, and the Kindle 3 has made it a lot easier to carry all I reading material I want. And I’ve been using Instapaper’s Kindle feature to grab articles online for reading during my commute home. Who knew it would help me keep up with my blog reading and news reading?

What more could I as for? Well, as I said in my earlier post on the Kindle, there were a couple of things I wanted to ask for. And they were important enough to keep me from buying a Kindle for a while, until the combination of the price and capability of reading the Mobipocket were enough to get me over any reservations I had before.

Now, it looks like Amazon is addressing two of my earlier concerns.

The Library Thing

We take Parker to the local library every three weeks, to check out books that he then reads or that we read with him during the three weeks until the next library visit. I check them out on my account, which I keep track of on public libraries website for our area. At some point, I noticed that our library also loans ebooks. I also noted that I couldn't read that those book on the Kindle.

Until now. It appears library books are coming to the Kindle soon.

Following the Curve of Her Eye

Users of Amazon's Kindle e-reader will soon be able to borrow electronic books from libraries in the US.

The retailer is teaming up with Overdrive, which already offers an e-book lending service through 11,000 American libraries.

Until now Kindle owners have been unable to download titles because the device uses a unique file format.

It said the US system would launch later in the year.

Borrowed books will be available on Amazon's own Kindle reader as well as other devices running the Kindle software, including iPads and Android tablets.

Anyone wanting to borrow a publication must be a member of their local library.

Titles are downloaded through the library's website and are automatically removed after a set number of days, with a maximum loan time of three weeks.

Upon learning of this, I immediately checked to see if our library was part of Overdrive, and it is. It remains to be seen whether any of the library books I'm interested in will be available in ebook format, but as far as I'm concerned it's still a good thing that I will be able to check them out on the Kindle.

But apparently, that's Amazon’s news is not good news to everybody. This post from the Christian Science Monitor's books blog suggests that publishers may not be thrilled at the news.

Library lending has always been a thorny issue for publishers. And e-book lending even more so. In an e-lending scenario, as with the lending of physical books, publishers lose out on multiple individual sales of an e-book. After years of slumping book sales, publishers were eager to cash in on e-books but e-lending will eat into e-book sales as well. And, as a recent Wall Street journal article points out, unlike physical books, digital copies don't wear out, which means libraries don’t have to reorder heavily used popular titles and publishers — well — they lose out again.

Indeed, several publishers have indicated they’re not entirely comfortable with the e-lending scheme. HarperCollins recently put a cap on its lending program at 26 loans, angering librarians across the country. And two of the country's largest publishers, Simon & Schuster Inc. and Macmillan, don't currently sell their digital works to libraries at all.

“We value libraries for their work of encouraging literacy and the habit of reading, but we haven't yet found a business model we're comfortable with,” said Adam Rothberg, a Simon & Schuster spokesman, in a WSJ interview.

Here we go again. First the music industry, now the film industry, and it look like soon the publishing industry. I won't ask why these industries have a problem with sharing, because I already know. There's no profit in it for them. If I finish reading a regular book and loan or give it to a friend of mine who wants to read it, the publisher loses profits. Assuming I purchased the book, the friend I loan or give it to represents one person who won't be buying the book.

Still, there's little publishers can do to stop us giving or loaning books to friends, family, or co-workers once we're done reading them. First off, it makes sense. Most of us, if we've finished reading a book, probably don't need to have it around gathering dust and taking up space, unless we know we're going to read it again. But then, how soon are we going to read it? How long will it take until we pick it up again, especially when other books are added to our "to read" pile.

Also, it's a usually a private transaction. Or it used to be. Now it happens on the web, at sites like Bookmooch and BookCrossing. At Bookmooch, users "mooch" books off one another, and the only money involved is the postage paid by the sender. (Come to think of it, you can sell your books on Amazon, and — if not make a profit — at least recoup some of the price of the book.) At BookCrossing, it's all anonymous; users leave books "in the wild" with the site's stickers bearing a number that identifies the book on the site. If it works as intended, one can login to BookCrossing and see where one's books have traveled.

Libraries are different in that the publisher makes a profit when the libraries by copies of books, but the same in that publishers lose the potential profits when people borrow books from libraries instead of buying them.

But I think publishers' reservations leave out some thing that other industries usually leave out. Sharing can actually create customers, when people who have "sampled" a product become more likely to purchase it, out of a desire for a more permanent or better quality copy. Libraries have probably helped turn more than a few book borrowers in to book buyers. And anyway, the assumption that the unavailability of ebooks on loan from libraries would make book borrowers any more likely to become book buyers seems flawed to me. It seems more likely that unavailability would simply lead book borrowers to read other books that are available.

Going EPUB

The decision about library books on the Kindle is probably related to the news that Amazon will offer EPUB format books on Kindle soon.

The Amazon Kindle, for the last six years and more, has exclusively sold books on its Amazon Bookstore in the Mobi format. They also devised applications for major platforms such as Android, iOS, PC, Blackberry, and Windows Phone 7 for reading their books. This insured that if you had purchased a Amazon Kindle e-reader or ebooks from their store, you were locked into the Amazon ecosystem.

Four publishers in the last week have confirmed that Amazon has indeed told them they now have an option to submit eBooks to be listed in the Amazon store in ePub format. Two of the companies we spoke with are very big in the publishing world and spoke to us regarding this new development during an interview in the last few days on a totally different subject. With many companies all telling us the same thing off the record it is confirmed that the Amazon is moving in this direction.

It would make sense that Amazon will continue to distribute books still in MOBI format since they developed the technology and so much of its online infrastructure is based around it. MOBI/AZW is known to have similarities with the ePub data structure and has most of the code embedded into its format. The ePub format is more or less the industry standard for ebook formats and almost every other online ebook store aside from Amazon sells their books in that format. With Amazon embracing ePub technology it further substantiates that ePub is by far the most popular format to read ebooks.

This makes sense as far as libraries are concerned, because most library ebooks are either in EPUB or Adobe PDF format.

It also makes sense in terms of the ereader market, since most of the other ereaders out there use the EPUB format. Eventually, as with electronic music, it’s likely that one or two format will come to dominate most of the market.

Most books will be available in one, some, or all of a few formats, because most publishers will release books formats that will be usable on the greatest number of ereaders. An ebook seller who remains locked into one format might end up losing business from publishers who aren’t likely to produce their books in yet another specialized format that only works on one reader.

For a while, Amazon didn’t need to worry about that, as for a long time it dominated the ereader market, and it probably still holds a greater market share than other readers. But it might not always. Competition is gaining, on Amazon. But Amazon, publishers, and readers stand to gain if the EPUB rumor proves true.

If true, then I suspect this means that whatever Barnes & Noble plans on announcing next week, it’s got Amazon a little worried. This past December I speculated that Amazon has been sitting on EPUB compatibility until it feels a competitive need to enable it, so I find it interesting that this news (assuming it’s true) is being leaked right before B&N’s May 24th Nook announcement. My guess is that Amazon has seen the new Nook, and either it’s dirt cheap—cheaper than the $114 ad-supported Kindle—or it’s got enough cool extra features that Amazon thinks it could really steal market share.

Because it’s just a rumor, there’s no info on what sort of DRM Amazon might slap onto any EPUB files it sells. If it goes with Adobe Digital Editions, that would open the Kindle up to both library ebooks and ebooks from Kobo and Barnes & Noble. If instead it follows Apple’s lead and goes with a private DRM solution, that would help stave off competition a while longer but prevent Amazon from offering library ebook compatibility (at least until it launches its own Kindle library program later this year).

Either way, the real winner if this proves true may be the publishers, as they would finally be able to submit the same format to all the major ebook stores.

Even if the above don’t pan out, I’m still very satisfied with the Kindle. If the above is true, then it will turn out that the Kindle is an even better purchase than I thought it was.

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