Publishers agree Kindle lending 'experiment'

Amazon has been approaching UK publishers ahead of the launch of its Kindle lending service, with a number having agreed to put e-books into the scheme, though the Society of Authors has questioned whether publishers can do so without first gaining authors’ permission.

Amazon’s e-book lending service, Kindle Owners Lending Library, is due to be introduced in the UK at the end of the month, and is thought to have been hastened by US bookseller Barnes & Noble’s arrival into the market. B&N will also offer an e-lending facility.

Amazon said it expected to have 200,000 titles in the scheme in the UK—more than it currently has in the US, where the initiative was launched amid hostility from author groups that claimed it was a "bold breach" of contracts. In the US, publishers not signed up to the deal were paid the wholesale price for each e-book loaned.

In the UK Bloomsbury, Oxford University Press, Icon Books and Michael O’Mara are among those with titles listed, along with a number of self-published writers. Andrew Furlow, sales and marketing director for Icon Books—which has six titles in the lending scheme, including its Christmas 2011 hit The Etymologicon—said: "We have submitted a selection of titles for lending for a period to experiment with them and see how it goes."

Louise Brown, sales director for OUP Children’s Books, said: "We were approached by Amazon to take part in the scheme. We decided to put forward some carefully selected titles and agreed with Amazon that we would review the effectiveness and impact of the scheme after six months."

Under the arrangement, Amazon Prime Members can borrow one e-book per month for free, and keep it for as long as they like—but they must return it before borrowing another. Kate Pool, deputy general secretary of the Society of Authors, said e-lending could  cheapen the perception of books, and said authors should be asked for their consent before being placed in such a scheme by their publisher. "Publishers should not permit e- lending without an author’s consent," she said. "It is the author’s work and they should decide what is done with it."

Juliet Mabey, One World publisher, said she was also approached by Amazon but was put off by the need to renegotiate deals with authors: "We opted out of the Kindle Lending Library for various reasons—not least because we’d have to go back to all the copyright owners and negotiate an extra clause in the contract."

Other publishers have suggested that the remuneration of the wholesale price of a book every time one is leant out, coupled with poor promotional opportunities within the lending service, has meant there were few advantages to the scheme.