I’ve been thinking about the Overdrive/Amazon announcement that will bring the Kindle into the device fold for library eBook lending and I have to say it raises concerns for me. In addition to the questions raised by Bobbi Newman, Jason Griffey, and Sarah Houghton-Jan (all very sharp queries), I think libraries are poorly positioned for this kind of move. Here’s why:
Kindles has the largest eReader market share at roughly 41%. As the breakthrough device along with the pricing practices of Amazon, it’s hardly a surprise even with the addition of Nooks and iPads to the market. It’s still the touch-and-go no-fuss-no-muss dedicated eReader out there, perfect for any age and reading desire; the gadget that anyone can use without regard to computer skill. You pick a title, you hit a button, you get the book, it’s done. It builds an expectation as to how eBooks should work and it has been building it with the largest audience so far.
By the end of 2011, this large consumer base with its giant market share will meet the “Pretend Its Print” model of eBook circulation that has been developed.
What do you imagine the reaction will be?
If the “1 eBook to 1 patron at a time” model is that best we still have when the Kindles come to Overdrive, I think it will be a serious problem. It’s not simply a matter of sending eBook wait lists skyrocketing (which it will for new releases), but that it will fail to meet patron expectations as to how eBook content should be managed. I think it will leave libraries on the hook to explain a very limiting policy to our patrons, making us look like technological fools (or worse, incompetent).
Why? Because we are perceived as experts on books and literature and I believe this perception extends into the digital world. Patrons won’t see it as a file (even though it is) but as a book, and wonder why we can’t “fix” this so that it works more in line with what they have already experienced using their Kindles. And to throw in HarperCollins here, we’ll still have a publisher insisting on limited checkouts but now with the largest eReader device in the market in the mix.
Personally, I believe that if we really want to move ahead with Kindles and Overdrive, it’s going to take a much better lending model than what we have now. And libraries are now on the clock to find a better solution.
There is a silver lining to this in my estimation. Amazon is the first device manufacturer and retailer to make this library lending deal. That’s a departure from the previous Overdrive partners which consist entirely of publishers. Given Amazon’s 300 lbs. gorilla status in the eBook game, this could make 2012 a very interesting year for eBooks and libraries. Hopefully, it won’t be the gorilla deciding to club us to death.