Amazon is is enabling readers of electronic books to lend digital copies of their favourite titles to their friends, in an effort to bring one of the key social aspects of reading to its Kindle device.
Despite the advice of French writer Anatole France – "Never lend books, for no one ever returns them; the only books I have in my library are books that other people have lent me" – publishers recognise that many readers enjoy lending books to their friends once they have finished them.
That has not been previously possible with books sold in digital form, as they could not be transferred from one user's account to another. Now, however, purchasers of e-books from Amazon can transfer virtual volumes to friends for two weeks, safe in the knowledge that any unreliable book buddies cannot contrive excuses for keeping them forever, and that the virtual pages will not be returned tatty and turned over at the corners.
The service is so far only available in the US, but is expected to be opened up to Amazon stores in Britain and elsewhere in the coming months.
Mass-scale electronic file-sharing has been the scourge of the music industry for years now, with just one copy of an album potentially able to be illegally downloaded and replicated by strangers an unlimited number of times. However, publishers believe that the risks of a similar situation developing with books will be avoided by allowing people to pass on 14-day downloads of their books via email to a single person per title, with their own copies becoming inaccessible until the loan has expired.
It represents a volte-face on the part of Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, who dismissed a similar lending scheme last year. "The current thing being talked about is extremely limited," he told The New York Times Magazine. "You can lend to one friend. One time. You can't pick two friends, not even serially; so once you've loaned one book to one friend, that's it."