The Kindle is missing a pretty important feature – support for library books.
It is a feature that’s a bit overhyped - most libraries don’t have a super-impressive range of books, you have to wait for your turn, and so forth. However, it’s still an important feature.
Courtesy Kathy we get this question -
Do you feel there is any hope at all that Kindle will ever allow library books?
The quick answer would be – No, not really. Not unless Amazon loses its head. Not unless another company starts beating it on the basis of library book support. Not unless there’s a gun put to its head.
However, it’s important to understand why Amazon is reluctant to add a feature that a lot of people, and some Kindle owners, clearly want.
Why is Amazon selling Kindles?
Well, perhaps it is to -
- Create a direct channel to customers.
- Create a direct channel to customers of good intent.
- Sell books straight to customers.
- Become free of Publishers.
- Save its book revenue stream from digital companies and digital technologies.
- Become free of Google.
- Become free of the Internet.
Library books don’t feature anywhere. Amazon is NOT selling Kindles so that people can then read free library books on them.
In fact, you could argue that people who really, really want support for library books are precisely the people Amazon doesn’t want buying the Kindle – they don’t buy as many books, they expect free and cheap, they are library customers before they are Amazon customers.
You could extrapolate and say that they will be less likely to buy other things from Amazon, and that if Amazon were to later turn the Kindle into a channel that sells everything, these library book lovers would be far less interested.
Amazon is doing what’s good for it as a business by not supporting library books. It is screening for good intent - customers’ intent to buy books and products from Amazon at reasonable prices.
If people want new books free, in addition to free public domain books – Are they really customers?
Amazon knows that people have access to millions of public domain books for free. If that isn’t enough, then it has to wonder whether those customers will buy anything. Perhaps they will buy a few books – but not enough to justify selling them a Kindle WiFi for $139, providing them free Internet, providing them customer service, and providing them all these services.
If these library-book loving people aren’t going to be buying $10 and $7 and $5 books then they aren’t really customers.
What benefit does Amazon get by supporting Library books?
Lots of benefits -
- Kindle owners get an alternative to the Kindle Store – free library books.
- Kindle owners get lots of alternatives to the Kindle Store – stores that sell ePub books.
- It can help all its rivals by letting them sell books straight to Kindle owners.
- Kindle owners buy less books and Amazon doesn’t have to spend a lot of time counting all the money it’s making.
- There’s less profit so it can’t devote money to R&D, and then it won’t have to worry about creating better Kindles.
It’s an endless list. Instead of worrying about what to do with hundreds of millions of dollars in profits from ebook sales, it can focus on other things like how to keep selling Kindles at low prices when there is no future ebook income stream.
Instead of keeping all the profit from its big, risky investment in the Kindle for itself, it gets to share this profit with companies that were simply waiting to see how things turn out.
How does not supporting library books hurt Amazon
Quite a few ways -
- Kindle owners keep buying books from the Kindle Store. It must be terrible to be making all that money.
- All the people who absolutely must have an eReader that supports library books, don’t buy Kindles. Amazon misses out on the rare occasions they actually buy a full-price book.
- All the people who want a subsidized eReader from a company that has invested billions in eReaders, but then want the freedom to buy books from any store, get upset and bad-mouth it.
- It has all this money, and all these customers of good intent, so it’s forced to keep building better eReaders, selling more books, and providing more services. That has got to be stressful.
- People of bad intent choose a rival. Then that rival benefits by providing customer service and infrastructure and cheap eReaders to customers who never buy books.
It’s very damaging for morale. Can you imagine how terrible it must be to be running a profitable business in a world where we are supposed to give everything away free.
Amazon is losing out on all these customers of bad intent that would have helped it lower its profits. Now it might never recover - it might even end up as profitable as Apple and Microsoft.
Amazon also has to go through the painful process of hiding all the billions of dollars it’s making. It has to learn from Apple - things like how you can amortize device sales across 8 quarters so people don’t realize until 2013 how well the Kindle is doing.
Reality is that people hung up on free library books just aren’t ideal customers
It’s the inelegant truth – If you need 90% library books, you’re just not a great customer. If you need the freedom to buy from any store, then you’re just not a great customer.
Think about it from the perspective of a company that wants to create a win-win situation – It provides a cheap, great eReader and a good service. In return it expects book purchases from its ebook store.
If all you want is free books from the library, you’re not providing your side of the ‘win-win’ equation.
B&N only added library book support because it had to compete against a market leader, and because it didn’t think things through properly. It’s adding customers that want millions of public domain books and free library books and devices that can be rooted to run things that aren’t supposed to be run on eReaders. It’s the gift you get when you cater to customers of bad intent.
There’s nothing wrong about supporting Library Books – except it changes the target demographic
Yes, Kindle owners would benefit if support for library books was added. However, there would also be far-reaching negative consequences.
It would change the Kindle from a device of good intent to a device of bad intent. Instead of being a store where people come to buy things, it would become a social network where people come to get free stuff.
People would buy a lot less books. If the ebook revenue stream dries up, then there’s no money to provide services. All the things Kindle owners love – free Internet, free store browsing, $10 and cheaper book deals, free book offers – are possible because all of us are actually buying books.
If we keep adding people who want to use the Kindle as a free soda machine, who want to squeeze every ounce out of the free Internet, and who never buy any books and thus don’t pay for the infrastructure – eventually the free services go away.
In a very roundabout way, Amazon is doing everyone a favor – Sending free-lovers to ecosystems that thrive on free, and keeping customers of good intent in the Kindle ecosystem. iPhone is the same way – If you’re willing to pay, then you get entry into the iPhone/iPad ecosystem.
The ‘hated’ closed ecosystem devices like Kindle and iPhone are the only defence against the disease of free.
Will Kindle ever add support for library books?
It’s highly unlikely.
Unless Amazon makes the call that it would rather be the ‘largest and least profitable ebook ecosystem’ than be the ‘largest and most profitable ebook ecosystem’ it’s not going to happen.
Perhaps publishers will find a way to kill off ebook lending by libraries, or will figure out a way to stifle it greatly. If either of these things happen, limiting ebook lending by libraries severely, and if Overdrive were to add library book lending in Kindle DRM format, then Amazon would add library book support in a heartbeat.
If library books are a feature you really, really want – you’re picking the wrong device and the wrong ecosystem. You’re much better off picking Nook or Sony Reader.