Why Amazon’s Lending Library is Not a Threat to Public Libraries

I had no idea that Amazon’s announcement would signal the end of the world, or at least the end of public libraries, or as my friend & colleague Andy puts it, the library apocalypse or I would have included this in yesterday’s post.

First let’s talk numbers about the Amazon Lending Library*

Now library ebook/book numbers (I’m not even going to get into other library services and the availability of a real live person to help you)

  • No additional cost, its covered by taxes
  • You can use any number of devices for ebooks and no device at all required for print
  • Untold numbers of titles available
  • 3 of the largest US publishers allow ebook titles in libraries, all allow print.
  • Unlimited books per month

Now let’s talk some other numbers.

Now let’s look at the doomsday perspective – the numbers just do not add up. Let’s take the number of ebook readers -12% and be SUPER generous and assume that means that 10% of the population owns a Kindle, that’s 90% of the population that doesn’t. Now you have to assume that the 90% a) can afford a Kindle & a prime membership for every household member and b) wants a Kindle. Those are some pretty big leaps that I’m just not taking with you.

You also have to assume that having access to the Amazon Lending Library means users would stop using the public library system. Also inaccurate. For some one book a month might be enough. But, as someone who as worked in libraries and bookstores most of my life I’m pretty sure that’s not an accurate depiction of an avid reader.

Don’t forget that publishers (and writers) have a dog in this fight too.  They’ve already stated they don’t care for this model for ebooks (though they were referring to libraries when they said it) and last time push came to shove with Amazon the publishers won.

* I know some people are getting all up in arms about the use of the word “library”, I’m choosing to ignore it even though Webster’s first defintion of library is “a place in which literary, musical, artistic, or reference materials (as books, manuscripts, recordings, or films) are kept for use but not for sale” because it has come to mean so much more and I’m not getting in pissing contest over semantics when there are larger issues here, including that it doesn’t matter what Amazon calls itself, it matters how people see it.

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17 thoughts on “Why Amazon’s Lending Library is Not a Threat to Public Libraries

  1. Thank you so much for taking the time to articulate these thoughts. I’ve had a couple of patrons already say something along the lines of, “Well, now that Amazon is doing your job for you, I guess I’d better hurry up and get my money’s worth out of this library before it closes!” They mean it all in good fun, of course, but still, that’s the kind of knee-jerk thought process a lot of Kindle users are going to have. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a neat idea for the, like, 6% of the population that can afford a Kindle and Amazon Prime, but it is not going to replace libraries.


    1. You’re welcome! Thank you!

      I always wonder what those patrons think will happen to them. I mean they aren’t getting their books from Amazon. Maybe they should be more worried about themselves and a little less about you 🙂


  2. Bobbi:

    Very informative! I don’t see this even being close to a threat to Public Libraries. Libraries provide many services besides ebook lending.

    So if the top six publishers are not in this, where are the ebooks coming from and how does that affect the library’s patrons? I know if you’re looking for a new Patterson book it is surely on hold at the library and it sounds like it is not available on Amazon Prime.

    Amazon only does things like this for money. Let’s say we are talking about 1,000,000 kindle users signing up for Prime time at $79 a pop. That’s 79 million dollars for giving people access to a small number of ebooks of their vast collection. I more profit in the future.

    I would like to see some competition with the Overdrive/Amazon model. You know, someone who would take privacy, availability and the reader into consideration.
    Great post!


    1. James In some ways we’ll have to see how it plays out. You’re right though, I checked and the new James Patterson isn’t available.

      I’m in complete agreement with you I’d love to see a nonproft model that respects what libraries do. Let’s hope Library Renewal gets funded!


  3. Thank you for this calm, rational response. I especially appreciate your inclusion of the poverty statistics, information that should be a factor in every single discussion about e-books / e-readers / digital initiatives that library workers have.


  4. Bobbi,

    This is only Day One (or maybe Two) of Amazon’s move into eBook lending, and it shows in the paucity of its offering (though it came out of the gate with five times the titles available from my state’s Overdrive-managed public library consortium). As it succeeds, as I am sure it will, it will expand its titles and supported devices and, if it can develop a sane remittance model for the publishers, it could well take command of the eBook lending landscape. This will render public libraries irrelevant for many of those middle-class people whose support they depend on. As for the poor–well, who cares about the poor in this country or, for that matter, the importance of a public library system in supporting and maintaining an egalitarian democracy.

    No, I fear perilous times are ahead for libraries. I have treated this subject at more length on my blog, at http://alltogethernow.org/showtag.php?currid=85, and I invite you to comment on what I have to say there.


  5. I agree that Amazon’s new lending library isn’t going to be much of a threat to traditional libraries. I own both a Kindle and an Amazon Prime membership, but even with 5000 titles available I don’t feel like the Amazon offering has anywhere close to the number of books that interest me as my local library.

    But the real deal breaker is the fact that Amazon is only allowing one title to be checked out per month. I am one of those “avid readers” that you mentioned, and I usually read 2-3 books a week, so one book per month is never going to be able to replace a regular library for me. However, I *will* probably use the Kindle lending library in a supporting role if there’s a book available that I run into in my normal Amazon browsing.


    1. I too own a Kindle and have a Prime account, I’ve had both for over a year. I have 5 pages of books on my wishlist on Amazon that I want to read, none of them are available through the lending library. Even if they were one a month would be no where near enough for me. I would guess I’ve checked out over 10 books on my Kindle from my library since that service became available. Sure I’ll probably use Prime if a book I want is available there & not from the library. But I also still buy books too. I think that’s where people get confused. Library users buy books, book buyers use the library they are not mutually exclusive in fact there are studies that show library users are some of the biggest buyers of books 🙂


  6. Last night, as I was issuing a library card to a new 20-something patron, the Amazon library came up in conversation. An Amazon Prime subscriber, he was concerned about the “immanent death” of the public library. I assured him that we, in our small town, are busier than ever both as an internet hub and old-fashioned book pusher/community center. His new card gave him access to all our resources as well as those held in libraries across the state for a tax levy of less than 1/4 the Amazon price for his entire household. Take that Amazon! I told him not to believe the hype and to spread the word.


  7. I’m agreeing with Bobbi Newman. Amazon is offering a wornderful service, but only allowing one checkout per month compared to academic and public libraries circulating checkout policy defintely don’t post a threat. Uterlizing the libraries afford the patrons to checkout up to 5-10 books every two to three weeks.


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