Through The Doors Of The Kindle Owners' Lending Library

Across the publishing industry, the newest addition to the Amazon family of apps and special programs is causing waves: the Kindle Owners' Lending Library. Earlier this month, Amazon announced that Kindle owners who are also Amazon Prime members will be able to “borrow” books from Amazon free of charge. This has much of the publishing community, from editors to publicists, authors to agents, up in arms. But what does a Kindle Owners' Lending Library membership actually entail and what does a reader think about it?

In terms of what is happening on the industry front, there’s no mistaking the fact that Amazon did a poor job of explaining the program. From not being clear about which books would be included in the Kindle Owners' Lending Library or how the books’ rightsholders would be compensated, there are questions all around. (In some cases books are included from publicists or rightsholders that turned down the opportunity to be included in the program in it’s planning stages a few months ago.) Now there’s talk of boycotting the program and there are rumblings that the entire Lending Library should be pulled from Amazon's site.

But today I’m putting on my “reader hat” (as opposed to my “bookseller hat” or my “industry hat”) and taking a look at the Kindle Owners' Lending Library itself.

It’s no secret that I adore my Kindle, some might even call me a Kindle-pusher, that’s how much I love my device. (Hey, have you heard about the Kindle?) And those of you who read my posts frequently know that I often mention how much use I get out of my $79 Amazon Prime annual membership; not just because of the program's free two-day shipping, but also the complimentary free streaming videos. I’ve also enjoyed the use of Amazon’s e-book rental service via my local library. So, I was thrilled to learn about the newly-launched Kindle Owners' Lender Library (or KOLL, for lack of a better nickname).

KOLL rewards Kindle device owners that also have Amazon Prime memberships by giving them access to thousands of free books. Amazon has teamed up with publishers Scholastic, Bloomsbury, Norton, Lonely Planet and more to create the KOLL library. And KOLL has several shining gems on their lending list, which is peppered with new and former New York Times bestsellers. And if you are eligible to check out KOLL and haven’t had a chance to pick up Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games series, you absolutely should. (Want to know just how good these books are? The series won the RT Seal of Excellence in September 2010.) 

KOLL is also delightfully easy to use. It's just a few simple steps from your Kindle device's home screen to receiving your newly-borrowed book. When you are on your Kindle home screen you hit the “menu” button and scroll down through the options that pop up to “Shop in Kindle Store”. After entering the store, beneath the Browse button you click on the option “See all Categories” and then choose the last listing, “Kindle Owners’ Lending Library”. There you can search through the list of titles available, just like you were buying a book from the regular Kindle store. But if you haven't already borrowed a book this month, you will have the option to select “Borrow for Free” below the standard "Buy" button. The e-book will then come directly into your reading queue on your device.

Using KOLL I plan to knock several of the books off from my TBR pile. I've already made my first borrow and selected my next two! Book one is Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond, which my history-enthusiast dad has been recommending I read for years. Book two will be Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, so I can finally watch the Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson film adaptation. And the third title that I’ve already decided to borrow is Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, because my restaurant manager-boyfriend swears it is what goes on behind the scenes at a restaurant.

I fully plan on reaping the benefits of the Kindle Owners' Lending Library. Unfortunately, even though I can tell you that even before I had borrowed my first book, I was not completely satisfied with the program.

For starters, KOLL is only available Prime members that own Kindles. This means that people who read Amazon e-books on non-Amazon e-readers, such as their smart phones or iPads, are left out in the cold. Although I have a Kindle, there have been several occasions over the past few years when I simply didn’t feel like toting it around, and instead would opt to read e-books on my smart phone. But this isn’t an option for any e-books I’ve borrowed from KOLL. 

Additionally, the entire list of books that I could borrow from KOLL is only accessible through my Kindle. This means if I want to browse the entire collection at my leisure, I have to do it on my black and white device — at least until I procure a snazzy new Kindle Fire. (My fingers are crossed for Christmas.) And although I can see more of the list by hopping on Google and typing in the phrase “["Borrow this book for free"]” and adding another criteria such as an author name or title, the system still doesn’t return with a complete list of the books in KOLL’s collection.

Furthermore, right now the program only allows members to borrow one book a month. Yes, that’s still twelve free (borrowed) reads per year, but I simply read faster than that. I know, I know, I sound a bit greedy. But I feel like Oliver Twist, “Please KOLL, can I have some more?”

As Amazon’s newest program unfolds, it’s clear that many people have questions about the lay of the land. This program has several kinks that must be worked out on the industry front including working with the unsuspecting publishers, agents and authors who do not want to see their books loaned out for free. There are also readers like me that are conflicted about the new program. But there are many that seem more than pleased to take advantage of some gratis books — no matter the flaws this version of KOLL may have.

Are you one of the many left out of this lending program? Does the Kindle Owners' Lending Library make you want to buy an e-reading device from Amazon or become a Prime member? Let me know in the comments below!