Lend Me Your Fear…Street

3 Nov

"Bitch, that's my copy of UNmarketing!"

I’ve been saying for months (primarily in my mind) that Borders might have saved itself if only the company had managed to innovate something—anything—in the world of e-readers, and more specifically if they’d looked into starting a “Netflix for books.” Anyway, too late now: Borders is dead and all that remains are some shuttered storefronts and the handful of hardcovers I picked up during a really depressing clearance sale.

But it’s no surprise that Amazon has jumped on this totally genius idea (of mine). The company is launching Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (worst name ever), which will only be accessible on the Kindle and Kindle Fire (not apps), and only available for subscribers to Amazon Prime (the rush-delivery-turned-video-streaming service Amazon tries to sell you on every time you buy so much as a $1 used copy of Twilight.) Prime costs something in the neighborhood of $80 a year, so this lending library incarnation has yet to really compete with an actual (free) library or the practice of (freely) lending books to friends. But it’s a step in the right direction. 

Generally speaking, one of my (many) gripes with the Kindle/e-reader thing has been lending, by which I mean both borrowing from a (library-like) institution and borrowing from friends. Many brick-and-mortar libraries have started stocking digital copies of books for Kindle users to “check out,” and on the Nook you can lend e-books to others for 14 days at a time, but I have yet to see some sort of all-encompassing lending solution.

So here are 9 suggestions for such a service, based entirely on my personal preferences and not at all on what’s technologically possible or financially appropriate.

1. Both types of lending. The final answer here should include both borrowing from a third party, and borrowing from, say, your cousin. In the print world, you didn’t generally do both of these things in the same place, but…why the fuck not?

2. Platform-agnostic. I know the whole point of the Great E-Reader War is to establish an industry leader, and just like Apple keeps its commerce operations on lock, I doubt either Barnes & Noble or Amazon would be keen on a universal lending library that works on all devices. But that’s exactly the kind of need Netflix filled by partnering with studios to create a one-stop streaming shop, so I don’t think the idea is entirely without merit. If I have a Kindle and my friend has a Nook, how splendid would it be to be able to share books anyway? Quite splendid.

3. Affordable. The $80 price tag on Amazon Prime probably made sense when 2-day shipping was a thing people cared about, but now that Amazon is re-positioning Prime as some sort of digital membership, it seems a little spence next to Netflix (or whatever the fuck people pay for Hulu Plus), perhaps in part because it’s a once-a-year fee instead of once a month. Moreover, in the print book world, borrowing from libraries and lending to friends are free, so anything publishers or retailers make off those transactions digitally is just money in the bank. I vote for a tiered system like (original) Netflix: $5 a month means you can borrow one book, $10 three books, $15 unlimited.

4. Flexible time limit. Barnes & Noble gives Nook peeps two weeks to read a borrowed book, which if you’re talking about anything over 400 pages can be a little ambitious. Amazon’s service makes more sense: Users can borrow only one book per month, but they can keep it as long as they like. Once they borrow something new, the previous book disappears. Combined with my aforementioned pricing model, which would dictate how many books one could have out at a time, this setup totally works.

5. Discussion. I’ll admit that I don’t know much about what (if anything) either of the dominant e-readers offers by way of book-related convos, but this seems like a natural integration for any sort of lending service. I let you borrow my “copy” of Snookin’ for Love? Let’s have a chat on our e-readers about the merits and disadvantages of searching for one’s soul mate at the Jersey shore. Because we are intellectuals.

6. Selection. I know it’s all economically motivated, but I’m over this whole “2 out of 800 publishers are participating.” Fix it.

7. Mad recommendations. Did my mom just finish Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom? Let a sister know; maybe I want to borrow that shit. But also offer me the opportunity to buy it for myself, suggest other books by Franzen, or similar books other friends have just finished. Let me know if someone else (in my network? in my city? from the “library”?) just read the same thing I did, and what they’re reading now. What are the week’s most-borrowed books? By author? By length? By number of notations made on them by readers? And so on.

8. Slush pile. When we book hoarders get rid of our physical books, they generally go to one of three places: friends, charity or the trash. I don’t know where e-books go to die, but give people the opportunity to release them back into the wild, and other readers the chance to buy them “used” at a slight discount. And if that fucks up your price model? Tack a discounted slush-pile book onto a normal $10 Kindle purchase as an upsell (“Buying Freedom? Your friend John just deleted The Corrections. Buy both for $15.”)

9. Awesome name. Obvi. Kindle Owners’ Lending Library will not cut it.

Let’s be honest, lending is the one place where book publishers are thanking their lucky stars for e-books. Though piracy will probably become an issue eventually, no one can argue that hacking an e-reader to steal books is easier than…handing your finished print copy of War and Peace to a friend. But we shouldn’t ignore that lending books isn’t entirely about money. Create something that takes advantage of the other benefits—conversation, personalization, social recommendations—and people (me) will be on board.

Seriously, someone should pay me for this.

One Response to “Lend Me Your Fear…Street”

  1. EB November 5, 2011 at 12:57 pm #

    Genius. Aaaand, I just finished Under the Dome. Talk about wiping some folks out….

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