Amazon announces the Kindle Lending Library

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Amazon on Wednesday announced that later this year it will launch the Kindle Lending Library, a feature that will allow Kindle customers to borrow books from 11,000 libraries across the United States. The Kindle Lending Library—which Amazon is forming in partnership with digital media distributor OverDrive—will work with all Kindles, and all Kindle apps, including the Mac and iOS editions.

Once the feature launches, customers will be able to borrow Kindle e-books from their local libraries and start reading them instantly. If you check out a Kindle book a second time, or later purchase your own copy from Amazon, you don’t lose any notes and bookmarks you’ve added; they remain linked to your Amazon account. (And, in an advantage over old-school paper-and-binding books, you can make as many notes on your e-copy as you like without mucking up the book for the next person to borrow it.)

Amazon’s current e-book lending policies, like those of its competitors, are limited—though perhaps the blame for that lies more on book publishers than on the booksellers. Only a fraction of Kindle books are lendable, and most publishers dictate that book owners may only lend each of their lendable e-books one time ever. Free online services like Lendle make it possible to borrow Kindle books from strangers, but such services are of course sharply limited by those same strict lending rules.

Amazon hasn’t said whether libraries will be restricted to loaning out a single copy of e-books at a time (as they would be with paper books), though that is part of OverDrive’s current agreement with publishers. Amazon’s announcement also makes no mention of issues like one that arose back in February, when publisher HarperCollins changed its agreement with OverDrive, dictating that its e-books should “expire” after 26 checkouts.

The other key detail missing from Amazon’s announcement is a specific date that the Kindle Lending Library system will go online; the company says only that it “will be available later this year.”

Regardless, Amazon’s embracing of the library model is huge news for the e-book market, and addresses one of the e-reading world’s biggest weaknesses. Voracious readers who borrow more books than they buy haven’t yet embraced the Kindle; that may well change once the Kindle Lending Library becomes available.

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