Amazon + Public Libraries = Uh-Oh!

Over at The Digital Reader today, Nate posted Thoughts on the Kindle and libraries.

Earlier, I posted The Abominable Kindle Wins? here and said towards the end, in passing:

How long will it be until Amazon wakes up to public libraries offering Kindle eBooks — as they have with Adobe DRMed ePub? Will we soon see an agreement between Amazon and OverDrive? Or will Amazon snub OverDrive and directly woo public libraries?

The current eBook catalog system at most public libraries is from OverDrive. It’s a horror to use.

Right now, Amazon eBooks are being offered through OverDrive. But these are via the Amazon subisidiary, MobiPocket. And that format is on its way out, according to the grapevine.

I don’t think Amazon is the kind of company to let another company get a cut of its eBook business, unless they can thoroughly control things (see recent state decisions taxing Amazon and Amazon killing Affiliate links in those states!).

I think Amazon would bypass OverDrive with a very tempting offer to libraries.

  • Publicize you now carry Kindle books.
  • Put a button on your site that links to the Kindle Store.
  • Give us your patron card numbers and they will all be given Kindle Store accounts immediately for free (or this could be manual opt-in, as the PR for this auto-opt-in could be massively bad).
  • Library users can borrow Kindle books that will automatically be downloaded to their Kindles (or iPhone or iPad or Android device running the Kindle app).
  • At the end of the book will be a Buy This Book button. If the reader buys the book, the library gets a sales commission.

Why would this be so attractive to public libraries?

  • It would cost far less than an annual OverDrive subscription.
  • Libraries could be charged a lower per-book license fee than offered by OverDrive.
  • Amazon could in fact offer it for free for the first year or two, gambling to make money on book sales.
  • Libraries would have a possible income stream through sales commissions, which is not something possible with OverDrive.
  • Libraries could dump OverDrive — with its Babel of Mobi, ePub, and PDF — altogether and make Kindle the standard for eBooks.

This would be pure Win for Amazon. It would push the Kindle format as the standard in the minds of everyone. And the beauty is, people don’t have to go buy a Kindle to use it. The could use an iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad, Android phone/tablet, or even the Kindle desktop software.

None of what I’ve mentioned here is particularly brilliant. Amazon is filled with very, very smart people and they must have been thinking of this all along, waiting for the right moment to do it. Well, public libraries are in distress from coast-to-coast. If this isn’t the right moment, when will it be?

This is not something Apple could do. It’s not something Google or Barnes & Noble could do (forget Borders, that’s already gone). Only Amazon could do it. Will they?

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