Kindle Offers Lending Library To Customers

Amazon has announced a new Kindle Owners Lending Library that will allow its Kindle customers to borrow one book per month from among 5,000 books. Kindle owners are happy — but publishers and authors less so. Amazon's market dominance allows it to forge ahead without the need for consensus from its content suppliers.

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Now, to the wild frontier of eBooks. Today, Amazon began shipping the latest iteration of its e-reader called the Kindle Fire. And the company is not just selling books for these device, Amazon has also introduced a lending library. But as NPR's Lynn Neary reports, some publishers and authors were taken aback to find that their books were part of the lending program.

LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: If you go to the main webpage of Amazon's lending library, you'll see a display of covers that includes some very popular books. "The Hunger Games" trilogy, "Money Ball," "A Reliable Wife."

ROBERT GOOLRICK: Well, I was rather startled to be included.

NEARY: Robert Goolrick is the author of "A Reliable Wife." He never gave permission for his book to be included in the lending library, but then again, he didn't necessarily have to.

GOOLRICK: You know, if any book store bought 20 copies of my book, they would be entitled to give it away to whoever they wanted, so in a retail environment, it's very hard to tell them what to do with my book.

NEARY: But Amazon can't include just any book in its lending library. The six major publishing houses have negotiated a way of selling their eBooks to Amazon that precludes using them in a lending library without permission. Smaller houses who sell their eBooks wholesale to the retailer don't have that protection.

Rachel Deahl of Publishers' Weekly says Amazon approached publishing houses last summer with different deals. Most said no, but that didn't stop Amazon from including some of those publishers' titles without telling them.

RACHEL DEAHL: That's got to be frustrating and it's got to be, on some level, embarrassing to have to go to your authors and say we didn't know this was happening. We're sorry.

NEARY: It's a tricky situation for publishers, says Deahl, because Amazon sells so many books and that makes it hard for anyone to speak up on the subject.

DEAHL: It gives you a sense of just how scared publishers are of Amazon because nobody will come out and say this is a problem and we're angry about it.

NEARY: Literary agents are speaking out. Brian DeFiore of the Association of Authors' Representatives says his organization wants to know how authors will be compensated if Amazon begins making deals with the larger publishing houses. They're also concerned that Amazon is simply using books to sell Kindles.

BRIAN DEFIORE: Giving away someone's creative work as an incentive to buy some other service or product feels - whether it's legal or not - it certainly feels problematic.

NEARY: Writer Robert Goolrick has another worry. The effect Amazon's lending library may have on independent book stores. No one, says Goolrick, can compete with free.

GOOLRICK: "A Reliable Wife" would never ever have become a best seller without the support and hand-selling of independent book sellers. And I think anything that weakens independent book sellers weakens the entire literary discourse in the country and I'm all for a healthy and vibrant literary discourse.

NEARY: And here's another sign of Amazon's pervasive influence in the book industry. Goolrick himself is a member of Amazon Prime and that, of course, makes him eligible to use the lending library.

Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.

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