Picker on the Amazon Kindle Library

From Franklin to Bezos: The Amazon Kindle Library
Randal C. Picker
The Media Institute
March 26, 2012

As I am fond of reminding people, faculty offices at my work home, The University of Chicago Law School, surround the library.  I walk out of my office into book stacks.  So it can hardly come as a surprise when I say that I had occasion last week to check a book out from the library and read it.  I have been doing that for most of my life.  I will also confess that in reading the book, I took out my highlighter and emphasized particularly interesting passages.

That is a library no-no, but I do take some comfort in the fact that my highlighter was my finger and the book, Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, was a digital book checked out from Amazon’s Kindle Library.  No physical books were harmed by my reading and highlighting.

We are entering the age of the private library, or, perhaps I should say returning to it.  In 1731, Benjamin Franklin formed a privately financed library that would become The Library Company of Philadelphia.  (Still in business today, the company is online here.)  Franklin gave what he termed a “short account” of the library in a July 13, 1741 note.  Fifty individuals contributed 40 shillings each to create the initial capital for the library company and they were each to contribute 10 shillings per year on an ongoing basis.  By the time of Franklin’s note, the library company was up to 70 members.  Members of the library could “borrow a Book for 2, 3 or 4 Weeks, leaving his Note for double value….”  And non-members were given borrowing privileges as well, also subject to leaving a bond for borrowed books and for “paying a small Acknowledgment for the Reading.”

On Nov. 2, 2011, Amazon announced a new Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.  Unlike Google Book Search, another private library effort, Amazon’s venture is a true lending library.  Prior to the launch of Amazon’s library, it was rumored that Amazon would launch a Netflix for books.  The Netflix model is a fixed number of DVDs out at a time, with a new DVD mailed out as soon as one is returned.  For a fee of course and not for free.  But Amazon’s library is actually much more limited than that: You can check out no more than one book at a time and only one book each month.  Yes, 12 books for an entire year, though you can’t beat the price: free to Amazon Prime customers.

Faculty: 
Randal C. Picker
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