One of the oldest customs of book lovers and libraries - lending out favourite titles to friends and patrons - is finally getting recognised in the electronic age, at least in one electronic book reader: Amazon has announced that it plans to allow users of its Kindle book reader to "lend" electronic books to other Kindle users, based on the publisher's discretion.
With this new feature, to be added to Kindle readers and software, "you loan your Kindle books to other Kindle device or Kindle app users", stated a blog item posted on Friday, attributed to the "Amazon Kindle team".
While in theory making a copy of an electronic book can be easily done, such ease of sharing could quickly devastate the revenues of the book publishing industry. So thus far, the publishing industry, and content media providers in general, have used DRM (digital rights management) to limit the copying of material, with varying degrees of success.
This new feature of Kindle, while maintaining DRM, recognises the human need to share books that have been enjoyed and/or found important. Not surprisingly, Amazon set up a few ground rules for its electronic version of lending: a book can be lent only for up to 14 days. A single book can only be lent once, and the lender cannot read the book while it is loaned out. Also, not all books may be loaned. It is up to the publisher or copyright holder to determine whether the title can be loaned out.
Although it is not mentioned in the blog, this new feature could also help public libraries settle on a method of operation in the digital age. Such a feature might allow them to lend copies more easily, while maintaining appropriate restrictions on usage.
The company did not announce when this new feature would be available, nor if currently owned Kindles could be updated to include the capability.
Amazon also announced that users can read their copies of Kindle newspapers and magazines through a Kindle web account or on Kindle apps for the iPad and other devices. "So you can always read Kindle periodicals, even if you don't have your Kindle with you or don't yet own a Kindle," the post states. This capability is already available for Kindle books.
Amazon's model for selling electronic books is less like Apple's iTunes music service, where users can only download the purchased item once, and more like Audible's model for its audio books, where the service keeps a list of items users have purchased and allows users to download the material multiple times. Kindle users have complained, however, that a single item can only be downloaded a limited number of times.