We’ve gotten used to digital media being as easy to share as cake at a birthday party. We post our favorite YouTube videos on Facebook, email links to episodes on Hulu, and upload music from Myspace onto personal blogs; it was only a matter of time before e-books became as exchangeable. EBookFling, a Beta site for sharing digital titles, was a clear step in this direction.
Spurred on by the e-book lending features of Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook, eBookFling makes tens of thousands of titles instantly available by facilitating lending among its members. According to George Burke, eBookFling president, “We don’t have to touch the inventory even…All we have to do is find a lender and a borrower, match them up and ensure that the book gets transferred.” This service is free as long as members participate in lending books as well as borrowing them. EBookFling, though only a couple of weeks old, already has thousands of members, but it is not alone. Other sites that facilitate free exchange of e-books, such as Lendle.com and Booklending.com, are growing their communities as well.
At first glance, these sites might give the impression that there is an online book-lovers utopia blossoming. Not so. According to Burke in a recent Globe and Mail article, “We wonder…whether a large portion of books will be made lendable by publishers. The Kindle/Nook lendable functionality is new, so not too many titles are lendable (yet)…we’ve also seen Harper Collins take a firm stance against commercial book lending.” One of several major publishing companies to take such a stance, Harper Collins released a statement last week to restrict e-books in library collections to 26 circulations before the title’s license expires.
E-book sharing sites are essentially free online communities which facilitate something most readers have always done with books: lend them out. Readers may be willing to let go of paper pages, but they are not ready to let go of the sense of community created by sharing a favorite book. In many ways, the digital era has created a larger sense of community – an online network that has proven to be incredibly useful. Will this remain true for communities that have formed around books? Or will publishing companies resist this until they figure out how to make it marketable for them?