Amazon Kindle, Kindle Fire open new 'lending library'

Amazon today unveiled a new lending library feature for Kindle and Kindle Fire users. 

The Kindle Fire is pictured at an event in New York. Beginning this month, Kindle and Kindle Fire users will be able to borrow books from a lending library, Amazon announced today.

On Tuesday, Amazon took the wraps off a new lending library, which will allow Kindle and Kindle Fire users to borrow a single electronic book every month. The cost: Technically, nada. The catch: You've got to have a membership to Amazon Prime. Membership cost: $79 a year.

In a press statement, Amazon said the initiative, slated to include "thousands" of books, will be rolled out this week. 

"Titles in the [lending library] come from a range of publishers under a variety of terms," Amazon reps wrote. "For the vast majority of titles, Amazon has reached agreement with publishers to include titles for a fixed fee. In some cases, Amazon is purchasing a title each time it is borrowed by a reader under standard wholesale terms as a no-risk trial to demonstrate to publishers the incremental growth and revenue opportunity that this new service presents."

In other words, Amazon is still figuring this thing out. But among the books initially available through the library are some blockbuster titles, including "Guns, Germs, and Steel," by Jared Diamond, and "Liars' Poker," by Michael Lewis. "We're excited about any program that helps readers discover our authors and their books," David Nussbaum, chief of of F+W Media, which is offering books through the library, said in a press statement. 

Amazon, of course, will have to fork over a good deal of money for the rights to lend all those titles. But as Ben Schachter, an analyst for Macquarie, tells Bloomberg BusinesWeek today, the lending library may increase Amazon's "short-term costs," it will also aid the company's long-term sales. After all, a chance to borrow books is another incentive – on top of all those streaming movies and free shipping – for consumers to sign up for Amazon Prime. 

In related news, this month Amazon is slated to release the Kindle Fire, its long-awaited tablet computer. The Fire, which has already churned up some brisk pre-sale numbers, will sell for $199, three-hundred bucks less expensive than the very cheapest iPad. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has sought to position the Fire are a cloud-based content-delivery system, as opposed to a simple piece of hardware. 

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