Recently, Amazon announced lending for Kindle e-books and the response was mixed. An unscientific scan of my Twitter network ranged from joy to skepticism. Some were relieved to finally be able to share some of the books they had collected on their beloved e-reader. Others complained, vociferously, that purchasing from the Kindle store should mean purchasing the book, not just the rights to the book. They were advocating for a more robust lending ability: at issue was the fine print of new lending feature. From Amazon.com:
Eligible Kindle books can be loaned once for a period of 14 days. The borrower does not need to own a Kindle — Kindle books can also be read using our free Kindle reading applications for PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android devices. Not all books are lendable — it is up to the publisher or rights holder to determine which titles are eligible for lending. The lender will not be able to read the book during the loan period.
These stipulations– it’s not a universal feature, you can only lend your book once and only for 14 days–were perceived as too restrictive. If we are slapping down our hard-earned cash to buy an e-book, we should have all the rights we have when we buy a physical copy, right?
But making something that exists in the physical world digital does not just change the format. There is a transformation, a difference that extends beyond pages and bytes. For one thing, I can’t hack my copy of Great Expectations to magically replicate itself, thus overflowing my house with Dickens’ great tale. (POST EDIT: Just read this fantastic piece by Saundra Mitchell about the true cost of free: a chilling reminder about the business of books and the high cost of piracy, the burden of which is borne by the content creators).This is, of course, the pervading fear of the publishers and authors, who go to great time and expense to deliver the content to consumers in the various formats. Borders, who once held the second-largest share of the book market, is on the brink of bankruptcy. The book business is hurting, and I want to ensure my ability to get new content. For that, I am willing to pay. Additionally, I love reading on my Kindle, and for that I will sacrifice the affordances of a physical book.
But what I think might be at the core of this issue is not the rights and responsibilities of book buyers and book sellers. What I believe to be at the core of this issue is our strong need to build communities of readers around us. Reading, after all, is a solitary experience. Yet we yearn, especially after reading something profound and transformative, to turn around and thrust the book into the hands of those we know. “Read this,” we implore. We can’t contain ourselves.
Social media has only encouraged and enhanced this experience, especially in the ways that students and teachers use it. Whether it be Paul Hankins‘ RAW INK Ning or the #titlechat discussions on Twitter or the GoodReads groups of classrooms, schools, and communities, we are sharing our experiences, our loves and our hates, with one another. Communities of readers persist and proliferate.
Because of these communities, I have read books that have moved me and made my life better, books that I never would have thought to read otherwise. I know I value my community of readers and this is one reason why I often buy physical copies of books, despite the ease of downloading them to one of my many gadgets. In the end, I have the sense that I am going to read it, turn to someone close to me, and carefully pass it along.
What does your community of readers look like?