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Kindle Does Not Work With Library eBooks

January 19, 2011

I keep hearing more and more about libraries that are now supporting ebooks. I find this fascinating. I didn’t really think that they ever would offer ebooks, but I suppose it makes sense since most libraries now offer limited selections of audio books and even CDs and DVDs. I always think of the library as a place to get books, not media.

However, it’s excellent that they do offer ebooks. I’ve been working in the ebook industry for a long time, and the fact that libraries are supporting ebooks really makes it feel like digital books have become accepted by the general public. We might someday live in a world where there are only ebooks. After all, paper doesn’t last forever, and we might have to stop using so many trees at some point.

This latest article that I read makes a very good point about library ebooks: you can’t use them on a Kindle. Amazon has engineered the Kindle to be extremely restrictive. If you have a Kindle you can buy ebooks from Amazon … and that’s just about it. (Yes, it can also read some non-DRM PDF and Mobi files, but that’s obviously not what we’re talking about here.)

Other ebook readers like the Sony Reader and Nook have ebook lending functions built in. Besides that, just about any device that can use Adobe PDF or EPUB files protected by Adobe’s DRM can probably use ebooks from a local library, like the BeBook, for example. You’d have to check with your library’s ebook lending service first to make sure, of course. But the point here is that the Kindle is engineered to be so restrictive that it just won’t work with library ebooks at all.

This is really unfortunate, in my opinion. If the Kindle hadn’t happened to grab household-name status, Amazon would really be shooting themselves in the foot with this. In an attempt to lock you into buying your ebooks with them, they’ve made the Kindle so restrictive that you can’t use library ebooks, you can’t make use of any of the other great ebook stores out there, and you can’t use Kindle ebooks with any other devices or apps. If you have a Kindle you must stick with and the Kindle app, and that is that.

The one good point about the Kindle is that you can get ebooks for cheap – all at $9.99, but even that turns out to be a bad point because it’s forcing many book publishers to move to the agency model so that they don’t go out of business from losing so much money through Amazon. At this point, using a Kindle is like shopping at Wal-Mart. You get stuff for low prices, but at a big cost to the companies that create the products, which in turn causes a negative trickle-down effect. Jobs can actually be lost, and companies can actually go out of business, when a big retailer decides to sell products at prices below their value.

I didn’t mean to write a post about economics today, though. The main point I want to make here is that if you’re interested in buying an ebook reader, do a bit of research first and find out what you’ll be able to do with it. If you buy a Kindle, you’ll be stuck with Amazon. It might be a good choice for you if you’re not that comfortable working with software and downloads, but if you’re a more advanced user who wants to be able to use different ebook formats and different ebook stores, then I’d recommend a less restrictive device.

  1. A couple notes: Amazon has enabled ebook lending, although their implementation leaves much to be desired. It’s clunky, requires you to visit your account or purchase pages on their web site to find out if a book is lendable and then to actually lend it, and the loans are subject to the same restrictions Barnes & Noble imposes (no doubt imposed by the publishers). You can lend an ebook only once, and only for two weeks.

    You may be interested to know that there are sites like ours ( that serve to match up lenders and borrowers for ebooks.

    • Thanks for the comment. The Kindle’s ebook lending feature is not related to libraries. I wrote a follow up post to this.

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