Amazon Gets a Library Card

Lindsay started on a more serious tone today, and I’m going to continue.

Amazon announced this morning that they were going to “launch library lending for Kindle books.”  It was a very exciting morning.  My fingers couldn’t move fast enough between tweeting about it and ichatting my co-worker (yeah, we use ichat at work. jealous? :)) about what it would mean and how it would work.

Now I won’t pretend to know everything about how eBook lending works and all that*, but I feel like I have a decent grasp on it as not just a librarian, but as one who purchases additional copies of eBooks for my library.  (We’re in a consortium of several libraries who share e-copies of many books, but we can buy extra copies that are only for our patrons.  Those are the ones I buy – the YA ones.)  And after tweeting about it a lot today, I learned that average users don’t really understand how it all works – and really, why should they need to?  Except in certain times.  Like today.  When great-sounding news may have a catch that is missed in press releases.

So in case you want to know, here’s how it works.  If you want to check out an eBook from your local library (for FREE, btw), you’d probably go through a company called Overdrive.  Your local library uses this company to purchase eBooks and audiobooks for you to download (“check out”) to your computer or device for a specific length of time.  Here’s the part you may not know:  There are a few different formats for eBooks and audiobooks.  And your library buys multiple copies of the same books in these formats.

Audiobooks come in wma and mp3 formats.  That’s probably something you’re at least a little familiar with.  For the eBooks we currently buy through Overdrive, there are PDF files and EPUB files.  The basic difference is that PDF text remains static (you can only zoom in/out) while EPUB text is reflowable (size can be increased, pages reload, etc.)  So Twilight, for example,  is available for me as an eBook in both PDF and EPUB but as an audiobook only in the wma format.  (I suspect it’s not available in mp3.)  And the catch is not that it confuses patrons (though it does), but that EACH version of the book costs money.  It’s as if you’re buying both a hardback and paperback copy because people will want to read differently or will only be able to read it a certain way, depending on their device.

Still with me?  Here’s where the Amazon stuff comes in.  Amazon has a whole new file format for their eBooks.  Kindle books come in AZW files.  Their files are specific and have their own DRM (Digital Rights Management), which makes them unable to work on non-Kindle devices.  So while Amazon’s news about wanting to lend books is fantastic for library patrons and libraries, as a purchaser of library copies of eBooks, I’m a little concerned we’ll have another file format to purchase an eBook in.  There are lots of answers we’re still waiting for.

If you want to know more about Amazon and lending, here’s a few articles to read:
Kindle Library Lending and Overdrive – What it means for libraries and schools from Overdrive
Some Questions for Overdrive and Amazon about the Kindle Lending Library-Update from Librarian by Day

– Jill

*Librarian friends, please correct me if you see ANYTHING wrong or misleading.

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4 Responses to “Amazon Gets a Library Card”


  1. 1 Sheila April 20, 2011 at 11:46 pm

    I purchased a Nook over the Kindle awhile back because of the library lending capabilities. Though I haven’t used it as much as I planned to, I think it’s great! Way to come around, Amazon! Though, really, wouldn’t it be easier for everyone if they had their books in epub format, too?

  2. 2 ngtjennifer April 21, 2011 at 7:56 am

    Our library does the consortium thing as well, but we don’t purchase any e-books on our own. So I can just ignore all the bad stuff and let other people worry about that 🙂

    Now if I ever get an e-reader I am definitely going with a Kindle!!

  3. 3 booksNyarn April 21, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    I work for a consortium and head the department area that handles OverDrive, so you are pretty well spot on. I have the same concerns about buying yet ANOTHER format with our limited funds. However, according to the OverDrive post, we don’t actually have to *purchase* the Kindle format – the items we already have in the catalog will be deliverable to Kindles…and that poses as many questions as it supposedly answers.

    You are right that we will be waiting for some more answers and explanations!

  4. 4 ngtjill April 21, 2011 at 8:52 pm

    Welcome to the blog, booksNyam! I’m happy to know I’m fairly accurate with my explanation. I have been wondering how the Kindle format will be available to titles we already own. Hopefully we’ll get some answers soon!

    Sheila, everything would be SO much easier if everyone had their books in only epub and all eReaders read epub, but unfortunately that’s not how the publishers thought. 😦


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