Amazon Revolutionizes Books…Again

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Amazon hopes to marry the benefits of a traditional public library with the advantages of the digital age.

I’m just old enough to remember physically checking a book out of the library. After locating something I wanted to read on a shelf organized by a numeric system based on the author’s name, a librarian would stamp a due date on an index card stored in a pocket glued to the back cover of the book and it was mine to keep until that date.

While the book was free, the process of obtaining it was cumbersome, and seems like one of those things my future kids will analogize with sharpening a stone spear tip. So when something came along that allowed me to search through tens of thousands of books from my bedside, tap on one that seemed interesting, and start reading it immediately, I jumped ship and have been buying e-books ever since.

But I traded convenience for price. Instead of checking out books for free, I paid for every one I read to be electronically sent to me. While a reading habit will almost never break the bank, I missed the days of free books.

Fast forward more than a decade and there have been quite a few attempts to let digital readers like me “check out” digital books gratis. Money Talks founder Stacy Johnson wrote about library e-lending efforts last year in Thousands of E-books: Free. But as he said in that article and video, libraries are meeting resistance from some publishers, and there are limited copies of popular e-books.  A partnership between Amazon and 11,000 public libraries varies widely in ease-of-use and book availability depending on where you live.

Fortunately, Amazon just came out with something new that makes borrowing books as simple as buying them.

The Kindle Owner’s Lending Library allows Amazon Prime members to borrow one book a month for free. There are no due dates or late fees, so you have the book until you finish reading it. And you can start reading whenever you want, too. Amazon will always have enough copies of a book for everyone who wants to read it.

In my case, I already have an Amazon Prime membership – a deal that gives you free two-day shipping, unlimited TV and movie streaming, and now free books for $79 a year – and a Kindle, so the only thing I need to do is figure out what book I’d like to read.

Initially, Amazon is offering a little more than 5,000 titles in its Lending Library, but they span all genres and include everything from The Hunger Games, to cookbooks, to SAT prep. Checking out a book is as simple as clicking a “Borrow for Free” button instead of a “Buy” button, and feels quite satisfying.

If you already have an Amazon Prime membership and a Kindle, this is a no-brainer. When you need something new to read, check the Lending Library first. There’s no sense in paying for something you can get free.

If you have a Kindle but haven’t signed up for Prime, now might be a good time to consider it. I’ve saved a fortune on the free shipping alone, with unlimited streaming of TV shows and movies as icing on the cake. But now that I may stop paying for books, it’s an unbeatable deal.

And if you love reading but haven’t tried a Kindle, do it. You can get one for as little as $79. Digital copies of books are typically priced lower than their paper ancestors, so an avid reader should have no problem getting the device to pay for itself (especially if you can make use of the Lending Library or are willing to accept the drawbacks of public-library-based digital lending). Mother Nature will thank you too.

Stacy Johnson

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