Commentary

Trust Me, Amazon: Buy Skype Now

I bought my husband an eReader for Christmas. Being avid readers, we were both a bit skeptical: could it really be as gratifying as a book? As nice to curl up with? Will we still have the same feeling of disconnectedness when we're camping by a lake, far from our computers, our cell signals and our wired lives?

 

As it turns out, the eReader is performing pretty well. Computer screens show an image by shining light from behind the screen, but on eReaders the light bounces off the screen, which has several advantages: it's how an actual book works, you can read it in bright sunlight, you can leave a page open forever and the battery will never go dead, and it's much easier on the eyes.

  

It offers obvious space-saving advantages in our campervan, as well as money-saving advantages (in New Zealand, ebooks run at about 1/3 the cost of physical). So, all in all, a success. And we're clearly not alone in our assessment of this device category; on December 27, the Kindle overtook the final "Harry Potter" installment as Amazon's best-selling product ever.

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But there is something missing. The purveyors of eReaders have forgotten an essential element: specifically, that books are social objects, that a successful replacement of a physical book will not only look and feel like a real book, but will allow you to lend it to your friends, to swap it out at an honesty library, or to donate it to your local community center.

Take my book club. Rather than have all the attendees read the same book and then discuss, we all just read whatever we feel like, then bring the books together, review what we've read, and share them around. Or take BookCrossing, a community of nearly one million readers who freely "catch and release" books in the wild, allowing the tomes to roam the world unhindered.

There is a social dynamic at play in these interactions that should be fostered, not silenced. BookCrossing's About Us page quotes Henry Miller: "A book is not only a friend, it makes friends for you. When you have possessed a book with mind and spirit, you are enriched. But when you pass it on you are enriched threefold."

Jeff Bezos, I hope you are listening, because I'm not suggesting that the Kindle can never replace books; I'm offering you an opportunity to take your current commanding lead of the eReader market and blow it out of the water, totally changing how the world interacts with the written word. Here's what you need to do:

 

  1. Implement "lending" technology on the Kindle. Forget about illicit copies; make it so you can lend an ebook to another ereader, temporarily hiding it on your own device. Unlike physical lending, elending will enable you to actually keep track of the recipients of your largesse. You can even request the return of a book, something that the borrower should be able to execute just by clicking "OK."
  2. Charge for the lending technology, but very little. Fifty cents per loan should do it.
  3. Buy Skype. Or Facebook. But Skype's a lot cheaper. Then integrate your lending technology with Skype so that you can push-lend a book to anyone via their Skype account.
  4. Buy Bump Technologies. Bump's app allows people to bump physical devices, like phones, together to exchange files. Integrate Bump into the Kindle, and allow people to lend books to each other by bumping devices. (Remember: "bump", 50 cents; "bump", 50 cents...)
  5. Send 10% of all revenue generated through the lending program to me, c/o MediaPost.

We are born to share books, to show off our taste in literature and to cross-pollinate ideas with like-minded thinkers. Enable us to do so, Jeff Bezos, and you will rule the reading world.

 

Meanwhile, dear reader, if you're looking for a good book, here are two of my faves: in the intellectual betterment category, "Nudge," by Sunstein and Thaler; in the outstanding fiction category, "Set This House In Order," by Matt Ruff.

I'm looking forward to your comments here and on Twitter (@kcolbin), responding to this column as well as offering your own book recommendations!

9 comments about "Trust Me, Amazon: Buy Skype Now ".
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  1. Karl Hourigan, January 14, 2011 at 1:51 p.m.

    Kaila, I love the e-lending idea. I think you've hit some good points about the social aspect of books (books as social media?).

    I also like the potential benefit of keeping track of who you've lent a book to, and making it easy for them to return it. Almost every physical book I ever loan never comes back to me, sometimes because I can't remember who I loaned it to and sometimes because it's too inconvenient for the borrower to get it back to me.

  2. David Carlick from Carlick, January 14, 2011 at 1:57 p.m.

    There is that thorny issue of rights management and getting the publishers to agree. Might need more than 50cents to make it work for the content owners. Otherwise, seems the way things should go.

  3. Anne Mullins from The Agency Inside Harte-Hanks, January 14, 2011 at 1:59 p.m.

    My Nook from Barnes & Noble has lending technology and you can surf the web with it - not great in black and white but good enough to check email, read articles, etc. They also have a color version but it's backlit and I stare at a computer screen at work all day.

  4. Anne Mullins from The Agency Inside Harte-Hanks, January 14, 2011 at 2:01 p.m.

    Exclusive LendMe™ Technology

    NOOK's exclusive LendMe™ technology lets you share favorite books with friends. LendMe™ books can be lent for up to 14 days. Just choose the book you want to share and send it to your friend's NOOK, computer, or handheld device enabled with NOOK software.

  5. Kaila Colbin from Boma Global, January 14, 2011 at 2:05 p.m.

    Thanks for your comments, guys... @Anne, up to 14 days? Are they serious? You can't decide for yourself how long you want to lend a book for?

  6. Anne Mullins from The Agency Inside Harte-Hanks, January 14, 2011 at 2:09 p.m.

    http://www.zdnet.com/blog/mobile-gadgeteer/how-to-loan-ebooks-on-the-nook-with-lendme-service/2250

    And you can't read it while it's on loan. I guess they want to make it a true physical book lending experience like when you borrow a book from the library. Also, not all books are able to be lent - it's up to the publisher. About 50% of the B & N library is lend-able.

  7. Kaila Colbin from Boma Global, January 14, 2011 at 6:14 p.m.

    I actually like the idea that you can't read it yourself while it's on loan. There's something that doesn't sit right with me about a single purchase being able to generate infinite other copies. @David, I thought about the rights thing, and the single copy idea should get around it. Publishers can't stop me from lending my physical book or selling it to a used bookstore, so why should they be able to stop me from lending it to someone? Once they've sold it to me, that copy should be mine to do as I please.

  8. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, January 14, 2011 at 6:21 p.m.

    We all who read your column think an e-reader is cost effective. Those who can only afford a borrowed library book or buy used books or able to raise money by selling used books are not going to buy into the e-reader craze. I still have my precious literary books from college with all my notes in them. I still would rather have the paper version where I can also put my finger in one page while checking something on another, having them side by side and bookmarks for easy reference while doing the other two. And comparisons with other books, the paper substance has no reasonable substitute. However, for the sake of packing for air travel with limited space and weight, I just bought an e-reader, too.

  9. R.J. Lewis from e-Healthcare Solutions, LLC, January 15, 2011 at 7:16 a.m.

    Amazon is already all over most of these great ideas already. I'm not in their business, but I would bet the greatest obstacles they run into are with the Publisher's and copyright holders who mistakenly view a $.50 loan as cannibalizing a larger sale. Very short-sighted, and wrong, but often the view of the publishing world which is caught up in a legacy business, and often unwilling to see the changing landscape. You are right, it is simple. Books are loaned today for free... image the new revenue stream if you could (and you can) make a fee for lending them.

    Two additional comments for Jeff B. if he's listing:
    1.) I'd give the option to "request" the loan to and charge the borrower in that case
    2.) "owner" or lender, should always have the right to take the book back (even w/out borrower's OK). Some polite mechanism... such as request it back (if OK, done, if not an option to ask for extension/agreed transfer date, or if no response, transfer back in three days.

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