Sep 29

Very simple: make it possible to loan a digital book to a friend. Not authorize the same book simultaneously across multiple computers on the same account, but actually de-auth it from one and give it to someone else.

IMHO the first service to do this becomes the dominant eReader format and here’s why: this is the last inadequacy that still drives people like myself to purchase physical books. The reading experience of eReaders has become adequate in every other respect and has other added advantages like search, portability, convenience of sync across multiple devices, instant gratification of being able to download immediately, etc.

I use the Mac client to read Kindle books now and I’ve tinkered with the Apple iBooks. Both are comparable but neither offers this ability to pass a book on after you read it. If there were limitless lending then it could be argued that it would wreck the eBook market and create a secondary blackmarket of people scalping loaned eBooks. But it would also cement that provider’s eBook format as the dominant format and force everyone get an account on their system. Because they still control the auth/de-auth lending process they could mitigate this problem by throttling the frequency or absolute number of times a book could be lent.

This opens a lot of doors. A lot more people would start buying eBooks knowing they could later loan them (for me personally there would never be reason to purchase a physical book again). Once everyone is using their format they make it so easy to purchase new books that whatever sales they lose from people passing on a loaned copy would be more than made up for in new eBook sales. They gain the opportunity to sell into a massive new base of account holders who are lured in initially by the prospect of a free book loan from a friend who already has an account. And they get a HUGE amount of useful data from tracking the reading behaviors and the lineage of lending. Lastly, they enable a crazy new capability if they make it so annotations can be separated from the lent copy and shared across other copies. For instance I would love to be able to subscribe to Derek Sivers’ book markups and flip on his annotations to see the notes he made while I’m reading one of the books on his list. This type of “co-reading” makes it possible to read not just the author’s message but select people’s takeaways inline.

With the release of iTunes 10 and the Ping service, Apple has finally added a social layer to its media player. I would expect eventually the social layer which is being rolled out around music will extend to all forms of their digital content be it a book, movie, TV show, song, podcast, or whatever comes next. Once the loaning capability is baked in, game over. Amazon should preemptively strike and enable this for all current Kindle owners. Turn all the old eBooks currently collecting dust on the proverbial digital shelf into a powerful, free viral campaign for its current subscribers to signup their friends.

Is there a flaw in this strategy or does this seem like an obvious move to anyone else?

5 Responses to “The next move Amazon or Apple should make in the eBook battle”

  1. Sean, I agree with this, but there is a greater problem that I face and it is this: Digital media licensed in one country isn't technically "legal" in other countries. So for example, all of the OnDemand digital content that I purchased on Amazon (hundreds of dollars worth) and had been streaming will not be delivered to me in Germany. Sure, I can take my DVDs, Books, and CDs with me, but the digital content that I had been streaming will now have to be illegally proxied from the States… granted, not many people skip countries, but many people travel internationally, so the idea that your content should be filtered by an IP address rather than the original credentials you used to purchase that content is utterly ridiculous. Also, I can find barely any english books on the iTunes store in Germany because they aren't licensed to be sold here, so I have to jump back and forth between the two stores to make purchases. Fun!

  2. Quora says:

    If you were Apple or Amazon, what would you do to win the eBook format war?…

    The sensible next salvo IMHO is to enable users to transfer books to others. This is the last major drawback that still compels people to purchase physical books.  By enabling this either provider could turn its existing customer base into a viral mark…

  3. Ron Stewart says:

    Don't overlook the ease with which e-book readers could also become part of public library ecosystems, as well, with this capability. It was one of the things that held me pack for a while before I finally went ahead and bought my Kindle… to me this /is/ obvious and I have wondered too why this hasn't yet been addressed.

  4. Maxim Porges says:

    Hmm, I’ve not found this to be a deterrent for me personally. The fact that I can get a book for $10 in seconds and read it on tons of devices outweighs any misgivings I might have about the inability to lend books. I wouldn’t complain if this feature was available, though.

  5. Stephen says:

    Huge ebook fan…kindle, iPad, phone, mac, you name it…

    I have argued for years that loaning a book is the key to the kingdom. it is no different than printed books. when i am done, i loan or give it to a friend or family member….

    and that generates new sales because they found something they like recommended by someone they trust.

    this seems so obvious to me….has for years…and yet it’s not done????


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