Borrowing eBooks and the Future of Publishing

The BorrowersWrote a post for my library blog that seems like it would carry over well here on this blog, too. Instead of just linking to it, I think I’ll provide the whole thing for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!

Big developments in the world of ebooks over the last week. Well, one big development at any rate. Amazon has announced it has decided to start allowing the sharing of Kindle books. There are strict boundaries to what they’ll allow right now–each person may share a book one time (and one time only) for up to two weeks. During that two week period, the book can’t be read by the sharer–only the sharee. So this is quite similar to what you can do right now with regular books: you can loan it to a friend for a few weeks so the friend can read it. The friend returns it, and then you can read it again.

I personally think more of this needs to happen–without the silly “one time only” clause–for ebooks to really flourish and take off. Everyone’s talking about the death of the printed book like it’s a bad thing, as if it signals the death of the book publishing industry as a whole. I find this idea silly. I mean, look at the music and film industry. We’ve had many years now when you can get those songs and films without the need of buying a physical copy. People can record their own songs or make their own movies and share them using the same channels that music or film companies use. However, you don’t suddenly see the collapse of the music industry or the film industry. What’s changed is the method of delivering the material, not the demand for quality material itself.

Yes, everyone can now write his/her own book and publish it online. So what? The fact is that most of the stuff people write and publish on their own is (more or less) garbage. I’m sure it’s very interesting to that person and his five closest friends, but that’s about as many people who are going to read it, in the end. Publishing companies–editors and their buddies–will still need to exist. They act both as a wonderful filter for all the rest of the garbage, and as a refiner for the end product itself. When everyone can and does publish an ebook, you need to be able to go to a place where you know you can find quality material.

So this brings us to the question of why there’s such reluctance to enable borrowing in the digital era. I mean, it’s not like people can’t obtain copies of whatever they want to watch, listen to, or read for free. There’s this thing called the internet, and it excels at connecting people to pirated material. So why not turn on borrowing privileges on ebooks, with no limit? After all, people have been lending friends their books for years, and that hasn’t done in the publishing industry–it just promotes more reading and spreads the word on good authors. If someone really likes the book, then they can go and get an e-copy of their own.

I know I for one would be more inclined to buy an ebook if I knew I could then turn around and lend it to others. That way, I’d feel like I was getting more bang for the buck. I suppose the biggest concern would be people would start setting up online communities where one person would loan out their book a hundred or a thousand times to different people. Of course, that’s sort of the exact model libraries have been using for a long long time, and again–the publishing industry seems fine to me. Changing, but surviving and even flourishing in some areas. Book stores, on the other hand, are having a difficult time. Selling the physical copy of things will get more and more difficult, which is why having a solid ebook format and delivery method in place is so important. Who knows–maybe publishing houses take over the selling of their books. Maybe agents do it for their authors (my agent has already started doing this for some hard-to-find, out of print books by his clients). Maybe authors do it themselves. I imagine it will ultimately be a mixture of all of these, but who knows?


I know I’m oversimplifying some of this, and that there are greater issues at hand, but in the end, I think that the more owners of content try to control that content with an iron fist, the less likely those owners will be to succeed. Those who are more loosey goosey with things have a great chance at financial success.

What do you think?

2 thoughts on “Borrowing eBooks and the Future of Publishing”

  1. I’m not sure how I feel about this.
    Of course, I don’t have a kindle, so it doesn’t matter — but I do want authors paid well, so if sharing is a buck or two more I think it’s smart. ๐Ÿ™‚
    And we all know that sharing IS caring. ๐Ÿ™‚

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