People who have Amazon Kindles will finally be able to borrow ebooks from their local library. This is a good thing for user service, whatver questions librarians may have about the forces that are moving behind the scenes on this one.
Why do I say this is a good thing for user service? Saying yes beats this scenario–excited patron calls up, because they just purchased a new Kindle and they want to borrow ebooks from their local library. The staff has to tell them that the library doesn’t have anything for them, and has no way of knowing if they ever will. Patron is generally upset, because, well, they just bought this new toy and want to use it. Patrons do not want to understand about formats, they don’t care about Amazon’s lock-in on its consumers (if they did, they wouldn’t have bought a Kindle in the first place), and they pay taxes in the community and they feel entitled to the services they paid for. If ebooks are available for other people, they should be available for everyone. There is no survivable way to explain to a taxpayer that they should have done their research first. For front-end service, this solves a major problem.
But all the questions about exactly how this is going to work are still open. Based on OverDrive’s own blogpost/press release, they are going to simply make any ebook currently available to libraries available in Kindle format in addition to the current formats. Whether this means both PDF and ePUB or just ePUB remains to be seen. The OverDrive blog is very clear that there will not be anything available that isn’t available now, so Simon & Schuster and Macmillan are not coming to the library table, and the 26 lending limit for Harper Collins titles will still be crosses that libraries have to bear. Or, to put it another way, #HCOD is alive and well, and it has been joined by #AZOD.
There is an awful lot that we still don’t know about this deal. Just because there is no “up front” cost to libraries to add the Kindle format ebooks, doesn’t mean this won’t somehow figure into OverDrive’s platform fee. And it probably has to. And it’s worth it to be able to say “yes” to all those patrons instead of “no”. But many libraries would prefer to see the price tag openly, and opt in or out accordingly.
All the press releases agree that users will be able to retain their margin notes from one checkout to another, but none say how that will work. It sounds like patron data is being retained, but by whom? By Amazon? Is that opt-in or opt-out, or is there any option at all? OverDrive says that “users’ confidential information will be protected”, but who is deciding what is confidential, and who is doing the protecting?
Also, when is this actually going to happen? Library users who have Kindles have probably been calling their local libraries all day. Saying “soon” will only hold them for so long.
Has anyone else noticed that this announcement came very hard on the heels of the announcement about Recorded Books moving their digital audio to Ingram? And that was on top of the Ingram/OCLC announcement about making ebooks available to ILL through Ingram. Wouldn’t it be great if a second player with good contacts in the industry challenged OverDrive for their monopoly?