The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Publishers Should Lift E-Book Lending Restrictions

Written by: Beth Woodward, CC2K Books Editor

I’ve written before about publishers and e-books, specifically, their difficulty in adapting the new medium to benefit them—not just profitability, but also in the ways e-books can be used to introduce new authors/books to the market.  The fact is, e-book reader and tablet owners buy a lot of books.  I’m no exception to that rule; when I think about the sheer number of e-books I buy, and the percentage of my budget eaten up by my Kindle purchases…well, quite frankly, I realize that I really need to get a life that involves other people.

My antisocial tendencies aside, it does seem like publishers are finally starting, slowly but surely, to embrace the e-book world.  More and more often, I’m seeing e-book only short stories or novellas releasing as part of a new or existing series.  Since the fall of agency pricing, I’m also seeing more discounts on e-books.  A lot of that is on the retailers, granted, but some of this is also the publishers’ doing: if book 3 in a series is coming out, publishers are starting to realize that it might be advantageous to them to discount book 1 to $1.99 or .99, or even make it free for a period of time.

But it could be better.  Along those lines, I think one of the first, and easiest, steps publishers could take is to eliminate the restrictions on e-book lending.

Although both Kindles and Nooks, the two major e-book readers, have book lending capabilities, many publishers disable lending on their books.  I suspect the fear is that less restrictive lending policies will enable people to start spreading the books around like crazy, similar to what we saw 10-15 years ago with Napster and other file sharing services.

The problem is, this is a limitation that has been artificially imposed on e-books—one that paper books simply don’t have.  If I have a paperback book and my friend Suzy wants to borrow it, I can give it to her.  Then Suzy can read it and may decide that she wants to buy more books by that author.  However, I can’t do that with an e-book.

But e-book customers read more books, more often, than their paper reader counterparts.  These are exactly the customers that publishers should be going after and trying to maintain.  And the fact is, the protections publishers put on their e-books—primarily, digital rights management, or DRM—are very easy to break if you’re so inclined.

E-book customers are the readers publishers should be courting aggressively.  If publishers want to maintain their position in an industry where self-publishing has become a much more viable—and much less stigmatized—option, they need to keep this in mind with their e-book marketing strategies.  Quite frankly, there’s no reason NOT to allow e-book lending.