In the past, when people asked my advice about what ereader to get, I always asked them where did they plan/want to get the books? If they said they wanted to borrow library books, I told them, “Don't buy a Kindle.” Unlike other ereaders, such as the Sony, Nook, and Kobo, the Kindle didn't support borrowing library books. Quite frankly, I thought Jeff Bezos had no interest in helping people borrow books; he wants to sell them books.
Well, I'm pretty sure he still wants to sell books, but Amazon has recently announced that by the end of this year they will support borrowing library ebooks on the Kindle through OverDrive, the primary US provider or ebooks for libraries. This move pretty much shoots down the main argument for not buying a Kindle, as least in the US.
After I got over the shock, I started thinking about how it would work. Some folks who perused the notice on the Overdrive site noted that they were advising librarians that they would not have to re-buy the ebooks; their existing collections could be loaned to Kindle owners. Now, since Kindle's format (and pretty much only the Kindle's) for ebooks is based on Mobi, and not ePub, that suggested that Amazon planned to make the Kindle support ePub.
I don't think so. I think Amazon plans to clone the workflow they used to put user-to-user Kindle borrowing in place. Here's how that works:
If I have a friend named Sue, and she loans me a Kindle book (assuming she can find one that the publisher hasn't turned off borrowing on), she initiates the loan from her Amazon web page. She provides my email address, and once I accept the loan, I have to provide an email address that is linked to a Kindle or Kindle app. At that point in time, Amazon sends the book to my Kindle, and they send Sue's Kindle a message that basically deletes that book from her Kindle (it looks like it's still there because the title still appears on the home screen, with an “on loan” notation, but it's not really there). Amazon doesn't somehow send me Sue's copy of the file, they send me a copy from their servers, just like they do when I buy a book. Once the two-week loan period is up, my Kindle gets a seek-and-destroy file that deletes the borrowed book. To get it back on her Kindle again, Sue has to reload the book from her archive. She doesn't have to delete the entry that says “on loan,” but it won't go away until she does.
Once they have everything set up with Overdrive, I think Amazon will actually initiate the loan, and send the book to the user's Kindle. If they can do that, then they will actually have wireless delivery of library books, which no one else has; right now a library borrower has to download to PC and copy the file over via a USB cable. It's possible that Amazon will require that, too, especially since only the Kindle 3 has wifi, and Amazon would have to pay for the wireless charges. But who knows? Maybe they could allow for wifi delviery of library books to the Kindle 3's out there. They are already offering to let you highlight and annotate the library book, and they say they will keep those annotations and if you later buy the book, voila! They will be part of the book again. In order to do that, I think the book on the Kindle has to be standard Mobi/prc format.
What I'm not sure of is how Amazon will make money from this. It's possible they have a deal with Overdrive— who has now expanded their potential client list exponentially— to get a small cut when a book is loaned. But I can be pretty sure that Jeff Bezos didn't cut this deal from the goodness of his heart. He may be more reader-friendly than say, Steve “Nobody Reads Anymore” Jobs, but he is still a businessman and he is out to make money.
But I think it's a good thing for libraries and for readers and, in the long run, for authors. I already bought one book because I didn't finish it before the loan period was up. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has done that.