This morning, Amazon introduced the launch of their digital e-book rental program. It’s called the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library and it will be available to Kindle and Kindle Fire owners who subscribe to Amazon’s Prime program.
Initially the program will be able to lend a bit more than 5,000 titles. These titles do include over 100 current and former national best sellers but as of the announcement, none of the 6 largest book publishers in the US are participating. The concern for the publishing industry is that digital-renting programs like this will harm future sales of older titles and taint their relationship with book retailers. But Amazon has enacted measures to prevent these types of concerns. Borrowers are limited to 1 book a month and can only “check out” 1 e-book at a time. Once a subscriber chooses another book to borrow, the book that they had previously “checked out” will erase itself from their Kindle library. These restrictions are fail safes that were put in place to make sure that readers do not take abuse the lending system.
Unfortunately for those Apple lovers out there, the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library is restricted to just that: Kindle owners. The library cannot be accessed through apps on Apple’s iPad or iPhone. You can still read Kindle books on these devices but if you want to take advantage of the lending program, you’re going to have to get yourself a Kindle. This is a great strategy on Amazon’s behalf to boost sales of their upcoming Kindle Fire, which will hit the shelves on November 15th and competes directly with Apple’s iPad. In addition, since the program is only available to subscribers of Amazon’s Prime service, it is fair to say that many more customers might opt into the $79 a year service to get the new benefits. The lending program is the newest feature for Prime customers but earlier this year Amazon did add video-streaming to its offerings, just shy of 13,000 movies and TV shows. My curiosities with Amazon lie in how far this program the will eventually go? Of course I expect Amazon to start releasing many more titles to the program but I can even foresee Amazon adopting different Prime plans, perhaps ones that offer more than 1 check out at a time for a premium plan which cost a bit extra.
Kindle titles have been available to libraries since September and the impact has been significant enough, obviously, for Amazon to adopt a similar offering for their customers. But more importantly, this trend towards borrowing, renting and streaming digital content also demonstrates the shift in the industry. More and more consumers are opting out of ownership of their digital content but rather, choose to rent it. Services for streaming movies and TV shows like Netflix (even with its recent PR nightmares) and Hulu + have been very profitable. The Kindle and its counterpart, the Nook, have also seen an increase in sales.
The most recent battles are in the arena of tablets after Apple hit the nail on the head with their iPad. Amazon’s Kindle Fire will be one of the first, true competitors to Apple’s dominance in this market. And with offerings like the video streaming and new e-book lending program, Amazon is looking pretty attractive right about now.