There’s an old retail term that we used to use when stocking the floor: padding.
Shipments would roll on in, we’d unpack, hanger, steam, coordinate the outfits, color-block, and pop that handy Sensormatic tag on the apparel. Naturally, the best items (obviously the priciest) would be placed at the front of the store where customers would see them first.
All the in-between spaces would be filled with “padding” i.e. staple items purchased on the cheap from lower-end labels, mainly solids…no prints, cheap inexpensive fabrics with little or no detailing...this kept the selling floor fat and full while showcasing the best of buyers’ acquisitions to the customer. Was the customer fooled? Sometimes.
The same could be said about the frontier of e-book lending where variety and new releases are in short supply. Think you’re going to get that New York Times best seller in e-book format on loan at the library, eBook Fling, BookLending.com, or on Amazon’s Kindle Lending Library? Think again.
At the library, it’s more than likely you’ll be wait-listed behind others who are clamoring for the same book. And that’s only if the book has even been made available for lending by the publisher and author. Popular genres like science-fiction, urban fantasy, and romance to date are poorly represented in e-book lending libraries.
Choices are either thin or non-existent. Think bargain basement bin or Mother Hubbard’s cupboard. Now, that is not to say that there aren’t some choice reads to be found, but you have to dig for them and you might have to get out of your genre zone. A few generous publishers have made their releases readily available to all-but unless you like a lot of erotica, Amish romance, or self-help books, then you might find your selections limited.
My initial experience with BookLending and eBook Fling was surprising. Both outlets have quite a few authors I recognized. In fact a majority of the books on their sites I actually already own because they were affordably listed on Amazon and I snapped them up right away. But to the newbie cruising for the next Nora Roberts or Clive Cussler, it’s most likely they’ll be disappointed. Instead, they might find listing after listing of shifter romance and various other erotic thrillers.
What I hadn’t realized at the time was that the selections being offered at BookLending and E Book Fling were not actually a true representation of reader’s libraries, but a saturation of titles that could only be offered as lendable. And in this case, a few key publishers had allowed their books to be lendable….dictating the trend-which means if you like saucy Samhain romance (like I do), or Loose ID, then you’re going to find a lot of those titles on these sites. I'm sure it works well for Samhain because it provides exposure to their authors, as well as ensuring future readers are hooked.
It’s just a tad different for Amazon’s Kindle Lending Library. The big e-tailer has opted to offer up some meaty reads sprinkled sporadically amongst some mediocre offerings and as I understand it…they are paying more to list certain titles to make them available to readers. Their overall library is a bit thin with 5,257 lendable titles*. Even my favorite genres are poorly represented with only 336 Romance titles*, 31 Fantasy titles*, 72 Science-Fiction*, 214 Mystery and Thriller titles*. And this is from the largest online bookstore in the world…which means you might have to dig for a good release and savor it (Amazon will let you only borrow once a month).
Strangely enough, when I cruised the Romance section for a read, I noticed a large portion of Amazon’s lendable romance section was Amish romance. Did I miss something here? Who is Amazon’s romance audience? It’s certainly not me.
So what does the lending conundrum all boil down to?
It means that e-Book lending is generally in its infancy with little selection (unless you are lucky to favor a genre that has been made loanable en masse) and with the rest of the offerings acting as padding (such as a plethora of public domain reads). (I guess I don’t need to mention who holds the keys to the kingdom regarding selection, do I?)
As a side note, of the 792 books that I owned on my Kindle at the time, I was only able to list about 60 of them on eBook Fling and BookLending. Another 30 or so titles that I own were "lendable" but not listable on either eBook Fling or Booklending due to the fact that that when I purchased the books, the lending rights were intact, but had since been revoked publicly. Strangely enough I can still loan these titles out, but Amazon's products page shows them as not lendable. And because eBook Fling and Booklending depends on the code from Amazon, they are unable to list them. This interesting snafu was uncovered over several emails between Amazon, eBook Fling and I.
The rest of my Kindle titles were unable to be lent due to publisher/author permissions.
So in essence, variety will not end up changing until publishers work a deal that favors their bottom line, and protects the value of an author’s intellectual property (loaning what can be sold is not in the best interests of the author or publisher). Until then, that new release you want will inevitably have to be bought or be wait-listed at the library. Amazon looks like it’s trying to balance out its offering for loans which is a good start. But at one loan a month? That’s certainly not in the interests of the reader who reads 3-4 novels a week.
With regard to Amazon, I’ve only borrowed one book so far from the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library, and it was a stinker. Looks like I’ll have to choose better next month…or wait until the selection gets better. As a consumer, I was not “fooled” by any means. With regard to Booklending and eBookFling, I have not borrowed from either, only lent. The main reason is that my own Kindle selection surpasses what they are offering for loan.
In these lean times, readers are looking for a deal…looking for a good read to devour in the next few hours…or days. Their time and selections are important. People want value for their money, and if the book is free, they want value for their time.
Going forward and seeing what ebook lending sites offer, I’m going to take a pass for now, and will continue to dictate my own choices…with my wallet.
*as of 11/20/11