Some Reactions to Amazon's New Library Lending Deal

1. I admit, when I first heard that Amazon and OverDrive were collaborating to make Kindle ebooks available through libraries, my very first reaction was to download the Kindle app for iPhone so I could finally check out library books on the go. Free reading on those hour-long bus rides to downtown? Hooray! 2. On the other hand, I've spent about ten years working in/around independent bookstores, and I've seen firsthand how Amazon has progressively chipped away at the rest of the print book industry. If only I had a dollar for every time I helped a customer locate some book they heard about on NPR, but they couldn't remember the title or the author, and they think it was something about history—and when I am able to actually find that title and author and often the actual book in a matter of seconds, they look at the price tag and hand the book back and say, "I'll get it for cheaper on Amazon …"

If I had a dollar, I tell you, for every time that had happened, I still couldn't afford the fancy French jet that Jeff Bezos reportedly uses to get around.

Cover image for The Great International Paper Airplane Book, with a paper jet, paper helicopter, and some other fancy folded paper in the background.

3. On the other other hand, it's nice to feel justified in the opinion that library patron access to books is a largely untapped customer base. Like I've been talking about here on the blog, libraries are vital to what I'm increasingly thinking of as the book ecosystem—they allow discovery without regard to an individual's budget, which ultimately leads to more book sales and a loyal readership.

It's obvious that making all Kindle books available through libraries is going to make a lot more titles available to a lot more people—especially since the technology threshold is much lower, thanks to the Kindle app being free across so many platforms.

And that sneaky little detail, that any notes/highlighting you put in a Kindle library copy will transfer to your own copy should you purchase the book at a later time, is designed to add impetus to the move from library patron to Amazon customer.

4. Back to the other hand—is there a more Orwellian technology name than Whispersync? Josh Hadro spells out a concern worth tracking on Library Journal:

At the very least, I’d like to opt out of this “give Amazon my interests” data program, and I’m hoping once more details emerge that we’ll see such an option.

What that line from Amazon implies is that some amount of data—the annotations linked to the title and an account identifier at the very least—are stored in perpetuity. Anything tied to library patrons stored in perpetuity by a retail operation makes me uncomfortable.

With this and the Elastic Compute Cloud they've lately developed, Amazon is making forays into Google territory, and trying to establish itself as a major Place Of Internet—with the same general heedlessness for privacy concerns. And I trust Amazon even less than I trust Google (or Facebook, for that matter) with my personal information. Library patron records have been such a citadel of the privacy battle for so long that it's hard to see Amazon as anything other than a threat to this ideal.

5. However: this means you could potentially read "Generous Fire" for free! It's due to appear in the Kindle store any day now. Further bulletins as events warrant.