New Kindle Lending Club Matches E-Book Borrowers and Lenders

A new startup called the Kindle Lending Club has launched in beta this week, aiming to make it easier for Kindle users to take advantage of the new options to loan and borrow their e-books.

The Kindle Lending Club is the brainchild of Catherine MacDonald, who said that when she heard Amazon announce on December 30 that it was finally adding a lending option for Kindle, she decided to set up a Facebook group – a way to help people find others who were willing to share their e-books. But as interesting in the group exploded, MacDonald realized that Facebook just didn’t offer the scalability needed for such an undertaking. “I had no idea how viral the idea was,” she says.

So in less than two weeks’ time, she has pulled together the resources – about $12,500 in angel investment and a Web development team – to launch the Kindle Lending Club.

MacDonald’s background is in project management, something evident in the speed and decisiveness with which she’s moved forward to launch this startup. But as she notes, there is a huge interest among Kindle users in this sort of undertaking, and the 4800-some-odd members of the Facebook group have given her a great place to work on the customer development and to build a product with avid Kindle readers in mind.

Both sharing and borrowing is free through the Kindle Lending Club. You can browse for the titles that other users have made available, and you can make available the books you’re willing to lend. The site simply matches borrowers and lenders. The rest of the Kindle lending rules stay in place: the loan is for 14 days. You can’t read a title while it’s on loan to someone else. And you can only loan a title once.

It’s up to publishers to decide whether or not their titles can be available for lending (and none of the books in my Kindle library are eligible, if that’s any indication of how publishers have decided). Nonetheless, even though the selection of books to lend may be limited, this doesn’t seem to have dampened the interest and excitement in lending and borrowing.

Since the public beta opened on Friday, 786 users have joined the Kindle Lending Club and they’ve listed almost 2000 books that they’re willing to offer to loan. 669 borrow requests have been made and 286 e-books have been loaned.

That it took almost three years for the Kindle to add a lending option is an indication of the reluctance of Amazon – or more accurately, perhaps, publishers – to allow lending. Some have argued that loosening restrictions around the transfer of digital copies will mean a loss of book sales; but it isn’t really clear that that’s always the case. As people run out of time to finish a book they’ve borrowed or as they grow tired of waiting in line for the next available copy of a popular book, they might just opt to purchase it. That’s what MacDonald hopes, in fact, as she’s an Amazon Affiliate member and that program – a cut of the Amazon sales generated via links on the Kindle Lending Club site – is where the startup will get its revenue.

MacDonald says she hasn’t heard anything from Amazon in response to the startup. (I contacted Amazon for comment, but at the time of publishing, hadn’t heard anything either.)

But the excitement it’s generated from Kindle users – their willingness to share their books – points to a “renaissance of reading,” argues MacDonald. And it would be a shame for Amazon to put an end to that.

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