I’ve always viewed the inability to lend an eBook to a friend or family-member as a severe degradation of the book-reading experience. A loss that has arisen from the differences in copyright and digital rights management as they’re applied to printed and electronic materials. Despite the proliferation of eBook readers, this gap in the experience has limited for me the desirability of purchasing eBooks.
I’m therefore very excited by a shift in attitude and capability within the eBook publishing industry that is allowing sharing – lending – to take place, albeit in fairly limited and constrained circumstances. Barnes & Nobles’ Nook introduced lending capabilities last year, and Amazon has followed suit on the Kindle. Both allow an eBook to be loaned to another person for up to two weeks, with the book automatically ‘returned’ at the end of that period. Amazon allows an individual title to only be loaned out once. These limitations are both arbitrary and unnecessarily limiting, in my opinion, since with a printed book I can loan it out for weeks, months or years. It also stops me from giving away a book once I’ve finished reading it.
These constraints negate the ability of educational institutions to provide textbooks to students; book exchanges cannot function in an electronic environment; and gift-giving is cumbersome or impossible.
However, with the opening up of even this limited lending capability we’re seeing a number of innovative intermediary services launching to take fuller advantage of the possibilities available. Lendle, for example, operates a networked book-lending exchanges which operates within the limits of Amazon’s restrictions, but provides users a significantly broader selection of eBooks than might be available within the individuals personal network. Booklending.com offers a similar, albeit differentiated service to Lendle.
The implementation of digital rights management seen to-date in the eBook publishing industry is an example of service design focused on the technology rather than the experience. Device manufacturers, book-sellers, and publishers seem fixated on delivering functionality and features – crisper displays, colour, storage capacity etc – and are ignoring the opportunity to redefine the book-reading and book-owning experience for their customers. Arbitrary constraints over the behaviour of customers – such as the two-week lending limit, and only allowing a title to be loaned out once – contrast strongly and negatively with the experience of owning a physical book.
As I’ve seen through the expansion of the UX Book Club initiative, the enjoyment of reading a book can be an intensely social affair. Part of that enjoyment comes from the ability to loan a book to another person, sharing the experience of the book, and engaging in a shared learning activity. Until this quality of the experience is embedded into the fabric of eBooks we will be reliant on sites such as Lendle and Booklending to close the experience gap.