Should authors have concerns about e-book lending?

Part One of this article received so little response I’m doubtful there’s reason to post the second, but for the one or two people who might be interested, here you go. As promised, I’ll tell you why I had doubts about two of the e-book lending sites I found. In a word … money.

I won’t name these two sites, or link to them, because I don’t want to publicize sites I have reservations about. If you search out e-book lending sites, I suggest you read their policies carefully and make up your own mind.

One site uses a credit system: each book you lend entitles you to borrow one book. BUT, if you don’t want to lend your e-books, you can buy a credit for $2.99. Wait! Isn’t that an illegal resale? What about the licensing agreement you make with Amazon and Barnes & Noble when you purchase an e-book? Well, you see, the site owners didn’t buy the book, they didn’t “sign” that agreement. They’re just acting as the middleman.

And never mind that thousands of authors, myself included, have e-books priced at $2.99, and by the reader paying the owners of the site for the book instead of Amazon or B&N, the author gets cheated out of a royalty. Hush, silly author. Quit being petty. Just consider the word of mouth potential.

The other site I have bigger doubts about. I’m not concerned about the way they operate the actual book loan, which uses the lending features of the Kindle and Nook, but I have questions about their policy of asking the lender to request the borrower pay for this loan—not pay the lender, but the site owners. The borrower has the option to pay the requested amount, or more, or less, or nothing at all.

The homepage blurb states that “100% of profits in 2011 go to charities promoting childhood literacy” and in one section of their Guide it tells the lender to enter “the amount you’d like to see a borrower contribute to charity for this book.” However, I could find no statement of what percentage of the money they collect is considered profit. What if you pay $3 for the book and only 3 cents of that goes to charity? Would you feel deceived?

Sprinkled throughout this site’s user guide and FAQ are statements that are somewhat misleading, such as these (emphasis mine): “We hope that you’ll be willing to pay something to support our cause, support the authors who bring us such great books, and do some social good!” And, in answer to the question why they don’t set a price for borrowing, they say, “Because it would likely lead to market fragmentation as other markets arose to compete on price, decreasing the benefit of secondary markets to consumers searching for a specific book and authors who deserve compensation for the content they create.

Am I wrong, or does that sound like they are sending the deceptive subliminal message that authors receive a portion of the fees borrowers pay?

If you read their FAQ, you’ll see that their aim is to see Amazon and B&N change their policies to allow reselling of Kindle and Nook books. They say (emphasis mine): “By contributing to eBook Exchange when you borrow a book, you’re helping us work to change that.” My question—how? How would my paying eBook Exchange any amount of money to borrow a book change the licensing agreements?

Again in their FAQ, they state: “Ultimately, by opening up the ebook licensing restrictions that publishers currently impose, we’ll be able to make ebooks available to an expanded number of markets. We’ll be able to reduce ebook prices to many while helping authors earn more.” Truly, helping authors earn more sounds good to me, but I find it hard to believe a third party is interested in helping me earn more. Helping themselves earn money off my work … yeah, I believe that.

Am I missing something? Please, if I’m too dense to see how this is in my best interests as an author, help me understand.

To be clear, I am NOT identifying the above sites as bit torrent piracy sites. For now, they only exchange books through the authorized lending features at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. But the whole issue of e-book lending or selling makes me nervous for one good reason—abuse. How so?

E-books are intangible.

If you buy a print book, you have the right to loan it out. You buy one book, you loan one book. Of course, assuming it’s returned, you can loan it out more than once, but look at the most popular print book you own and tell me how many times you’ve loaned it out over the years. Three, four, ten times? Fair enough. An author would consider that word of mouth.

Now, consider the forums where, via email attachments, people trade files copied directly from their e-readers. Disregarding the licensing statement they agreed to when they purchased those e-books, they say, “I have the right to loan out my print books to as many people as I want, so what’s the difference?”

Let me tell you the difference. If you share your “e-book shelf” on one of these unscrupulous trade sites, how many times do you think you’ll be “loaning” each of those books? Not three or four. Not even thirty, forty. A hundred times? A thousand? Where’s the limit?

Bit torrent (peer-to-peer) sites essentially force e-books into public domain—meaning the authors receive not another penny for their hard work after that initial sale. And yes, people do that with music files too, but most musicians make the bulk of their income from live performances and merchandising. Only the big-time authors make real money from public speaking engagements.

As for reselling books, that’s a bit different. Reselling a print book is still within the realm of word of mouth. Books deteriorate after awhile, so its resale can continue for only a limited time. BUT e-books don’t deteriorate. If sites spring up to resell ebooks with no licensing limits, they could duplicate and sell as many copies as they want.

How is that fair to the author? That goes beyond “word of mouth”. That’s theft.

I perused one of these bit torrent book sites once and read an author’s plea after finding her e-book available for unlimited free download. She asked that it be removed and tried to explain that writing was her career and unlimited “sharing” deprived her of income. The response? They told her to go f**k herself!

What say ye?

24 thoughts on “Should authors have concerns about e-book lending?

  1. They can think up a fix on just about everything these days. My gripe is inheritance tax. You can’t even leave your kids stuff without getting ripped off even though you paid taxes all along the way you earned it.


  2. Interesting post! I’ll admit this is something I knew very little about. It is interesting to see the opportunity that e-books have given small time authors but also the additional concerns it raises.


  3. Thanks for following this up. I had no idea.

    So, when I fill out my page on Amazon to upload, I should check off “do not lend”. But doens’t that mean you can’t get the 70% royalty? No matter what, I think we’re screwed.


    1. That’s right, Anne, if you choose the 70% royalty option, you can’t opt out of lending. I don’t mind the “each book, one time” lending through Amazon and B&N, but it’s the Free-for-All proposal, which cuts the author out of any profit, that bothers me. Not that my book, or probably any of my future books, would be “hot” on these sites, but I have to stand against the ethics of it in general.


  4. I think I would show my middle finger right back.

    I know nothing at all about ebooks. I’m a thirty something year old dinnosaur stuck reading paperback (Seriously, the only ebooks I’ve ever bought are yours and Cathryns), but as a reader, I wouldn’t feel very comfortable giving away my ebooks, especially since they seem to be so cheap anyway. I think the only way I can see myself doing this is if I had them loaded on a kindle and I loaned my device to soemone, and this limits who reads it and how many times that one purchase is passed on. As a writer, it pisses me off that people go out of their way to rip us off, but I also think it’s inevitable. And if it lands in the hands of someone who would neber have read it otherwise, great – but most likely that’s not the case most of the time.


    1. As I said in the first part, Jennifer, I don’t mind giving away a fair amount of copies to possibly make new fans of my writing. But that’s my choice. I definitely don’t like having the choice taken out of my hands.


  5. From what you said above, it does seem as if that site is suggesting that authors are somehow going to be making some money from the lending, but I can’t find myself believing that would actually be the case!!

    I like loaning from libraries, I think that’s good. I like the idea of the one time lends from Amazon, though I haven’t used it myself and don’t really know how! I kind of feel like e-books are so cheap that if someone wants to read it, it’s not really that expensive to pick up a copy. That said, in NZ the price of print books is huge in comparison, where as I have seen that in the US Kindle prices are sometimes higher than print, so that probably weighs on my thinking. For a typical paperback, we’d pay around $24 mark and upwards, so you can see why a $9.90 e-book, even after exchanging between US and NZ currencies, is a much better deal for me.


    1. I don’t believe it either, Cassie. There’s no incentive for them to pay the author.

      If I hadn’t used libraries all my life, I’d not been able to read a tenth of the books I have — probably even less than that. And I don’t mind someone lending a copy of my book to a friend they think might enjoy it.

      I had no idea books were more expensive there. I’m too sheltered, I guess.


  6. Hi Linda. I had never given any thought to lending e-books. I have bought several (Roses being one of course) but have never even considered lending them to friends. One friend always reads a chapter or two when she is here but we have never discussed my sending it on to her.
    The whole thing seems to be a rip off as far as the author is concerned – but here I hear myself asking what is the difference if I lend a hard copy book to a friend or take one out from the library?
    In this technological age this is just one more question that needs to be sorted out, buy by whom?


    1. Enjoying a book when you can only read it in spurts is hard, Judith. You have my permission to lend your copy to your friend. 🙂

      It’s not the limited lending that bothers me, it’s the call to lend it wholesale that I feel rips off the authors.


  7. This gets back to how file sharing has changed the role of copyright in the internet age. RIAA sought to crackdown when it came to protected media (CD/DVD recordings, etc.). e-book lending certainly collides with end-user agreements a reader must agree with before proceeding with the purchase/download. Unfortunately, it will eventually be decided in a court.


  8. You’ve made some excellent points. As an author, it’s a concern to me too. I just noticed a thread on the Amazon readers’ forum tonight called the “Loan Me….Thread” where readers are calling for books they want others to loan to them via the Kindle. It’s one thing to share a book with a close friend or relative but quite another to share with the world at large. To me it reeks of redistribution.


    1. Thank you for reading and commenting, Bobette. The Kindle does allow you to lend a book you bought, but only ONCE. I have no problem with that. Nor do I mind the Prime Lending Library because the author is paid for those loans. But I waffle on the other “lending” arrangements. I’m guilty of sharing music files in the early days of Napster, so I guess if my books are being “pirated” it’s my karma, and I understand now how those artists felt. I don’t like the idea that someone is making money off these lending sites. Why should THEY profit off my hard work?

      However, another side to consider is that I want people to read my work. I’ve given away about 25,000 copies of my book hoping to gain some new fans. I doubt all the book lending sites together have given that many copies of mine.

      Besides, I’m not sure we can do anything about these sites. I believe Amazon could because when you buy a Kindle book from them, you don’t really own it, and you agree to abide by their terms, which say you can only lend it once, and you have to do that their way. So, if Amazon ever takes up the fight, the sites will disappear. We’ll see.


  9. The internet virtually guarantees anything digital can be obtained for free. And why is that such a bad thing? Why is it all about money and you owe me this much because it was my work you read/listened to/saw. Why can’t we just share knowledge and creativity for everyone to joy because it’s better for everyone?


    1. Thank you for your comment, Ken, but I don’t agree with your viewpoint. Do you have a job? Do you get paid for doing that job? I work full-time as a writer, do I not deserve to be paid for that work? No one gives me food, clothing, and housing or pays my bills because I entertain them with my stories.


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