eBook lending services are starting to blossom and bear fruit, as popular e-reader companies, such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble recently allowed their eBook owners to lend out most books for a 14 day window period. Many new websites such as eBookFling, Kindle Lending Club, Lendle and BookLending helps facilitate members sharing purchased ebooks with each other. The question is what effect will this have on piracy?
eBook piracy has certainly become more prevalent as e-readers and tablets are becoming more affordable and mainstream. You only need to watch television now to see the latest advertisement for the iPad 2 and the Motorola Xoom. You also have a fair amount of commercials for e-readers, such as the Kindle and Nook.
Popular Bit Torrent Site Torrentfreak recently investigated the number of downloaded E-Reader ebook files in conjunction with the subsequent release of the Apple iPad1 last year. The numbers were quite staggering. Research demonstrated that ebook piracy increased by a whopping 78% after the first few weeks of the iPad release. This was slowly been rising as the next generation iPad has been released.
If you doubt the future success of eBook lending clubs, e-readers or tablets, take a look at a recent report from IDC. They claimed that over 13 million e-readers and 18 million tablets were sold in 2011 and they expect the number to rise further this year. That is a fair number of new devices being claimed by thirsty readers.
Lets face it, eBooks are rather expensive, the tangible versions even more so. Many people are buying e-readers to save money over the long term. A new release in hardcover format in your local book store will range from $20 to $50, where as the eBook is around $10 to $13. There are obvious long term cost savings for the sort of person who buys and reads a fair amount of books buying it in electronic book form.
In the digital age, there is no denying that people are pirate eBooks from popular torrent sites, but why should eBook lending clubs not care?
Lets take a look at some of the various ways pirate eBooks end up making it to the online world, so we can evaluate the shortcomings of the industry.
If you have ever searched for an eBook on a torrent site you will notice a fair amount of them are scanned books and often have degree of terrible quality. People often will scan a book page by page until its complete. The problem with this sort of format is that each page is often not centered, you also have pages out of order.
Manually copying a Book to an eBook
The next method pirates often get a eBook online seems rather implausible at first, but trust me, this is done far more then you would think. People often sit down with the physical book in their hands and write in a Microsoft Word document the entire book. They will literary spend weeks or months reading a sentence and then copy it down into the document. Some website owners also end up paying cheap labor from 3rd world countries to do this task for them. This factor again makes the eBook riddled with errors. The most common error is the default dictionary used in many word processing programs assuming one word is another. Combine this with many common words and you have a book that took forever to copy verbatim, only to be unreadable in the end.
Bad eBook conversions
The average ebook found on many torrent sites are often littered with obtrusive line space formatting and puncuation marks. Many eBooks available online can be converted from one format to another using eBook formatting software. These software bundles allow users to convert an PDF book to a ePub format – compatible with most e-readers. When most people attempt to convert the book they have find it riddled with half-sentences and other errors. This is partly because the original PDF was a scanned copy or had footnotes, or other graphics on it which a conversion program can only display text. These graphical images are then converted to ASCII and other formats to try and make text out of images. Needless to say it throws the entire book off.
The final method is often the least employed, using or creating heavily updated tools to manually strip the DRM (or Digital Rights Management) from a purchased eBook from a legitimate store. Often the e-reader companies will come up with different eBook encryption formats to try and dissuade hackers from breaking their encryption. Retail giant Amazon recently employed a new encryption service called Topaz which circumvents many of the previous hacks.
Normally breaking the encryption and spreading the book out virally is often the best quality book, but they are rare. Hackers not only have to create the programs to begin with, but update them as software and encryption changes. Often these programs involve programming know-how, such as Java, Phython, Ruby or Pearl. Most of the best programs are beyond most peoples ability to employ.
Are Publishers Worried about eBook piracy?
Most eBook publishers are not worried about eBook piracy, yet. In a recent interview Penguin chief executive John Makinson proclaims himself as an eBook convert! He wants to get his company firmly behind ebooks but in 2010 they only accounted for %1 of the entire companies sales.
Most eBook companies see similar figures and have mainly voiced that they are not heavily concerned about it. What they are concerned about is the recent Agency Model the big publishers are coming up with to regulate global eBook prices. They have bigger concerns at this point in the game then eBook piracy which they leave up to the digital sellers like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and others.
The Agency model is also under fire right now, especially in Europe where the EU is launching a major investigating in Publisher Price Cartels where price fixing is illegal.
What companies offer the ability to lend out books?
There are lots of questions on how ebook lending services work. It is imperative that you first understand some of the underlying factors that contribute to making this possible.
Lending out eBooks is a relatively new phenomenon, Kindle lending is a feature launched by Amazon on December 30, 2010. Any Kindle book that has lending enabled can be loaned by one Kindle user to another for 14 days. At the end of the loan period the title is automatically transferred back to the book owners Kindle.
Barnes and Noble is the only other major company to offer a lending service entitled “Lend me.” It first started back in Beta in May 2010 and has quickly become a great service usable by all Barnes and Noble Apps and all of their e-readers. It works the same way as Amazon, except with Barnes and Noble ePub format.
What about Library lending?
Libraries have been around for as long as we have had written language. Throughout history they have aided mankind in record keeping, theology and literary works. As society evolved so did these houses of books in order to accommodate our growing needs. The latest leap in technology for libraries has been ebooks and the e-readers on which they are often displayed from.
Libraries are making it easier and easier to get a hold of their vast collections for you to enjoy on your e-reader. Today we will be going over the steps needed to get you reading ebooks from your library of choice.
One of the first things you may want to do is to become familiar with Overdrive. This is the global distributor of ebooks and audiobooks to libraries that support their system. You can check the Overdrive database to see which books are available in your region for you to check out. Overdrive offers a wide selection of ebooks for different states and countries. With Overdrive Search you can locate the nearest libraries and view what they have to offer.
Next you want to make sure that you have a library card. If you had a library card prior to this you can check to see if your library is listed and what they have to offer. If not then getting a library card number is as easy as filling out the application form for one at their website. Not all libraries offer these services so be sure to see what all is available to you in your area.
Depending on your location there may be a limited number of supported libraries present or maybe none at all. However this is no reason to fret. There are out of state libraries that will gladly assist you. These places normally require a small fee to operate. This type of membership will need to be paid on a yearly basis.
If you plan on reading your borrowed ebooks on an e-reader you can skip this step. For those of you that wish to read on your desktop computer or laptop you will need Adobe Digital Editions in order to view the DRM material of choice. This software is available on PC and MAC. You will also have the option of getting ebooks in ePUB or PDF format.
Once you install Adobe Digital Editions you will need to authorize your computer through the software. This can be done from the main menu.
If you plan on getting Mobipocket ebooks which use the PRC file format you will need to install the Mobipocket Reader application.
You are now all set to start enjoying what your local library has to offer. Once you download an ebook you can transfer it your e-reader in the appropriate folder or to an easily accessible location on your local computer to be viewed using your e-reader application.
You can also check your local library’s website for more information on their policies and procedures in regards to ebooks and any other assistance they may provide. Some libraries also have in-house workshops where they give free instruction on the process of signing up and downloading ebooks.
What companies offer eBook lending liaison service?
Many new eBook lending sites are rising up to take advantage over the lending services offered by Amazon and Barnes and Noble. This technology allows users who purchase books to share the books for up to 14 days to someone with the same e-reader, as long as they know their email address.
The situation most people find themselves in, is that they are the lone wolf in their circle of friends that actually have an e-reader and actively want to lend and be lent books to save even more money.
Enter the eBook lending services. U.S. distributor BookSwim recently launched eBook Fling. This is a bit of a different site that allows both the sharing of Kindle and Barnes and Noble Books. The lending feature offered an irresistible low-cost entrance into a booming market, according to company president George Burke. “We don’t have to touch the inventory even,” he said in an interview. “All we have to do is find a lender and a borrower, match them up and ensure that the book gets transferred.” Regarding eBook piracy in general he added, “This type of service doesn’t facilitate the transfer of a file,” Burke said. “And because we don’t touch a file we have no worries about piracy. It’s just not possible.”
ebookfling makes its money from the virtual credit system where users who do not lend books but want to be lent books can pay a few dollars to request books from other users.
Other websites such as Lendleme also work on the lending and borrowing system using the Amazon Kindle only technology. Lendle can’t work if people aren’t willing to lend books. When you join the site and tell them what books you own, you are given two borrow requests. As you lend books, you’ll get more borrow requests. As long as you’re lending, you’ll always be able to borrow. This helps the service have more books available and make sure users are always able to read something. As of press time this website currently had around 5,000 books available to consume. When you borrow books from this site, not only can you read them on your Kindle, but also on Kindle for PC, or any Kindle app on the iPad, iPhone, Android or iPod touch.
There are many other companies that also follow simalar suit to Lendleme, such as Booklending. They also lend books just in the Kindle format and both companies make money off of advertising.
How will eBook lending affect Piracy?
Right now we are on the cusp of a new niche market opening up and hopefully stimulating more companies to add this functionality to their e-readers, such as Kobo. Kobo has 2 different e-readers available and a bookstore with over 1.3 million books. If they were to implement a lending service they would help foster a new service stimulate reading and allow their users to enjoy the same service offered by Barnes and Noble and Amazon.
I expect to see eBook piracy failing quite significently in 2012 when the lending services gets more exposure and matures.
Part of the reason is that torrent websites and pirate sites offer very low quality books and it takes more time to find a good quality version of a book then it would take to register on a lending site. Since lending sites have all of the latest releases you will never have to really wait too long to get a copy of the book.
The main reason that lending sites will become the way people trade books comes to a question of quality of the ebook. Torrent sites cannot compete in terms of quality to the real thing.
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Michael Kozlowski is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past ten years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times.