As of Thursday, Amazon lets Amazon Prime members download one free book per month onto their Kindles in a new program called Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. According to the company’s website, there are more than 5,000 titles available for the free download, although the decision about whether or not to lend out the books is made by each title’s publisher.
So far, none of the six largest publishers in America have consented to have their books available through the virtual lending library. The Wall Street Journal claims that senior publishing executives are concerned about the free service hurting the sales of their older titles, which is why many publishing houses have withheld permission. Publishers who will allow their titles to be included in the program include Scholastic, Lonely Planet, and F+W Media.
The announcement comes just two weeks before Amazon launches the highly-anticipated Amazon Prime, a digital reader in direct competition with the iPad. The lending library program is intended to boost Kindle sales, as well as promote Amazon Prime membership, which costs $79 annually.
Traditional libraries are not concerned about the competition with the Amazon lending library. Libraries anticipate that many people will not be able to afford Amazon Prime, and they also want to continue to be a resource for patrons who are looking to read beyond the bestseller lists.
Personally, I am unimpressed with Amazon’s new service. The list of books available for free download is extremely small, and not having the participation of the major publishers sends up a red flag that this development is not necessarily good for the book business. Additionally, I wouldn’t think that one free book download a month would be a huge bonus for someone who can afford both a Kindle and an Amazon Prime membership. Amazon has been a major contributor to the decline and fall of the bricks-and-mortar bookstore, and this seems like yet another calculated move on their part to monopolize book sales and marginalize printed books in favor of their Kindle empire.