Rumours are rife that Amazon is planning to launch an e-book rental service similar to its successful film rental site, Love Film. Exact details are unclear at this stage but it would probably be based on a monthly / annual subscription, which would entitle users to receive a certain number of e-books directly to their Kindle.
Amazon is said to be in talks with publishers at present so I don’t know what the scope of such a service would be. Would it be primarily consumer-based or would it cover academic texts, which might be provided by university libraries?
This rumoured move has prompted renewed doom-filled prophecies about the future of libraries. Certainly, if Amazon was to launch such a service I imagine it would be successful. With Amazon’s current domination of the e-book market and their streamlined e-book purchasing and management system, they are well placed to do this. Many consumers have already set up accounts with Amazon, which would facilitate an easy move to this new service. With the success of film rental sites such as Love Film, people are accustomed to using similar services and the convenience might draw consumers away from less user-friendly library e-book services.
but what about the cost?..
I find it interesting and somewhat worrying that a number of the news articles discussing this topic do not really raise the issue of cost. Convenience comes at a cost and this has always been the case, even with print books. If you want to read a particular book, it is generally more convenient to purchase it rather than taking a trip to your local library to retrieve the book (potentially waiting for it to be returned by another user) and then comply with restrictive lending periods. The same is true of e-books. E-book provision is now a vital part of academic library services and many public libraries also offer some form of e-book lending. However, the complications of providing mass access to diverse e-book content from numerous providers means that access procedures can be complicated and nowhere near as simple and user-friendly as the Kindle system.
Without knowing the exact details of the proposed service or whether it will actually be launched at all it is difficult to speculate but I think the overall impact on libraries will be dictated by how e-book lending within libraries develops in coming years. If libraries are able to offer a competitive and user-friendly e-book lending solution (and having worked in the sector I know this is no easy task!) I hope the provision of free resources would still be enough to draw users away from expensive subscription services but this remains to be seen. I do fear that users may not realise the value of free e-book services before it is too late.