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Amazon's Kindle Owner's Lending Library is a good deal – for Amazon, that is

Amazon launched its Kindle Owners' Lending Library today - but readers might want to take a look at the fine print. 

By Husna Haq / November 3, 2011

Amazon Prime members pay $79 annually for “free” borrowing privileges of books that can only be read on Kindle devices.

Mark Lennihan/AP

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We’ve got to hand it to Amazon on this one. What a way to cross promote Amazon Prime and the Kindle, in one fell swoop.

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Amazon launched the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, a service that offers free e-book borrowing privileges to Amazon Prime members on their Kindle devices. The program launched with 5,000 titles, including bestsellers like “Water for Elephants,” “Moneyball,” “Fast Food Nation,” and “The Big Short.”

It’s a smart move for Amazon, one that gives it and its Kindle device an edge against Apple’s iPad and Barnes and Nobles’s Nook – and promotes Amazon Prime subscriptions, too.

But is it really a good deal? Amazon charges $79 annually for its Amazon Prime subscription service, which gives members access to streaming video and free shipping (with some caveats) – and now, “free” e-book borrowing.

Of course, it’s not really free – Amazon Prime members pay $79 annually to enjoy the “free” borrowing privileges. For truly free e-book borrowing services, Kindle owners can virtually visit their local library, as we explained in a recent Chapter & Verse post, “Kindle’s e-books come to community libraries.”

Take a look at the fine print and the Amazon deal sounds even less enticing.

Users can borrow only one book per month and when they borrow a new title, the previously borrowed one disappears. And the books can only be read on Kindle devices, including the forthcoming Kindle Fire tablet – they cannot be accessed via apps on other devices like the iPad or iPhone. (One more way to drive Kindle sales.)

Finally, none of the six largest US publishers are participating in this program, perhaps understandably. “Several senior publishing executives said recently they were concerned that a digital-lending program of the sort contemplated by Amazon would harm future sales of their older titles or damage ties to other book retailers,” writes The Wall Street Journal. That means the selection of books Amazon can offer will be considerably affected.

Considering that, we’re feeling less and less convinced about this deal.

The bottom line, to us, is this: Amazon’s Kindle Owners’ Lending Library is a good deal. For Amazon, that is. It drives Amazon Prime subscribers to Kindle devices – and Kindle owners to Amazon Prime. But readers may be better off sticking to their local library. Like Mom always said, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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