The rise of collaborative consumption means consumers can drive their neighbor’s car, borrow a set of power tools, even rent out their unused vehicle or spare bedroom, saving money and conserving resources. But digital goods are also shareable thanks to online platforms that facilitate those transactions or simply share media. For instance, users share photos under the Creative Commons License on sites like Flickr.com or post videos on YouTube and Vimeo.com.
Among the newest shareable items: eBooks.
The Gutenberg Project offers tens of thousands of free eBooks for downloading, but those tend to be older titles. For new releases, check out Lendle.me and BookLending.com, which facilitate the sharing of eBooks on Amazon’s Kindle platform, or eBookFling, which launched this week and works on the both the Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s nook platform.
You don’t have to actually own a Kindle or a nook to read those eBooks, as you can download apps to read them on a PC, Mac, or on your smartphone. But eBooks can only be shared once and only for 14 days at a time. “If you had unlimited lending that would be an abuse of the lending platform,” admits George Burke, founder of eBookFling. “How are the authors going to make any money? One-time lending is author-friendly because a person can borrow a book for two weeks and get a taste of the book.” Publishers can also choose not to make their eBooks lendable at all, but many choose to enable the lending function.
Often you can download a sample chapter or two before buying an eBook, but a lending platform allows readers to get an even better sense of the author’s style. “If you wonder whether you’ll like a book, you can get a look at the whole book before you buy it,” explains Catherine MacDonald, founder of BookLending.com. “If all you’re looking for is a fast read, then borrowing is a good option. You can give back to the community by lending the books you already have and the ones you choose to purchase in the future.”
Most people understand how the sharing of physical items works: pick up a book from the library, request a DVD from Netflix (NFLX), borrow extra wineglasses from a friend. And in the heyday of Napster and other file sharing programs, you could just upload songs and share them freely (albeit illegally). But sharing digital goods within the framework of today’s anti-piracy laws is a bit more complicated. In fact, while Kindle and nook facilitates the legal lending of eBooks, Apple’s iBooks platform does not officially support lending.
Here’s how eBookFling works: lenders list the eBooks they have available for lending and earn one credit for every five books they list. Borrowers create a wish list and sign up for notifications when the book they’ve requested is available for lending. After getting notified that a borrower has selected their books, lenders log onto Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com to complete the transaction, which is verified by eBookFling.
The site notifies borrowers when the eBook is ready for download and charges borrowers a credit, which is “paid” to the lender of the eBook. At the end of the 14-day borrowing period, the eBook disappears from the borrower’s device and automatically returns to the lender with any notes or highlights left by the borrower erased and the lender’s notes intact.
eBookFling also gives borrowers the option to buy credits instead of earning them through lending. Lendle.me and BookLending.com work similarly except without the credit system (Lendle.me requires that borrowers be willing to lend eBooks, while BookLending.com does not, functioning as more of an open community around eBooks – in fact, it originated as a Facebook group and allows users to log in through Facebook instead of creating a separate account.)
In addition to selling credits, lending sites make money through affiliate programs. Say you can’t borrow Malcolm Gladwell’s latest eBook, so you decide to buy it instead. If you clicked through one of the eBook lending sites, they’d get a cut of the deal through Amazon or Barnes & Noble’s affiliate programs (at no extra cost to you). BookLending.com also offers sponsorship opportunities so that independent authors or publishing companies can promote their eBooks to users.
“What we’ve seen since the BookLending.com community formed is that the urge to lend books goes beyond reciprocity and economics,” says MacDonald. “Frequently, our members are driven to lend by a desire to share experiences and ideas.”
Adds Burke, “it’s a way for you to gain some additional value out of your eBook instead of letting it collect e-dust. Now the fact that you can share them means eBooks might actually have its own currency.”
Susan Johnston is a Boston-based freelance writer who covers business and lifestyle topics.