Tuesday, March 22, 2011

On the future of ebook rental - An interview with George Burke, CEO of eBook Fling

Last week eBook Fling was finally launched, offering one of the most interesting marketplaces in a new emerging area - e-book rental.

What is eBook Fling? Here's their description:
A free service where readers across the nation can swap ebooks by simply utilizing the lending capability of the Kindle & Nook books they already own. Wow. How does it work? Anyone with access to the Kindle & Nook apps can borrow and read an unlimited amount of ebooks for free, as long as they're contributing their own Nook or Kindle books. Those without ebooks to lend can purchase a $1.99 credit to borrow any book from an ebookflinger. Lenders earn credits to then borrow other books.

In other words, if you have a Nook or Kindle and you want to take advantage of their option to borrow (and lend) ebooks, but you don't know where you can find other people you can swap ebooks with, this is your place. They're not the first one to offer this service and of course you have many libraries that now offer the option to borrow ebooks, but still it looks like this is the most serious attempt so far to build an efficient ebook rental marketplace. Therefore it has a great potential to shape the future of an interesting part of the ebook market.

The people behind eBook Fling are our good friends from BookSwim with whom we partnered many times in the past. We wanted to learn more about the new venture and asked George Burke, the founder and CEO of BookSwim to join us for a short interview, and here it is:

Hi George. What's your vision for eBook Fling in five years? Do you see it as a complementary service to BookSwim or one that intends to replace BookSwim eventually when ereading will dominate the book marketplace?
I do believe lateral growth can happen world wide, assuming B&N and Amazon release the service in other countries. I also see other popular ebook platforms (like Apple's iBooks and Google Books) launching with lending capabilities, making the service available to more readers.

I truly see this type of service as a testing ground for authors and publishers, perhaps become a paid marketing outlet to reach readers directly. How (or if) to integrate with BookSwim is currently up-in-the-air.

Did you receive any feedback from authors or publishers? Are they for or against a rental service of ebooks?
Honestly, I haven't heard much from authors about what they think. It's a great opportunity for a try-before-you-buy, which actually benefits both readers and (good) authors.by allowing readers to try out something new they wouldn't otherwise have purchased. The author gets a type of exposure that was never possible previously. It's gotta be better than the ridiculous ebook promotion that simply gives away the book for free; not a loan, not a rental, not temporary, but a totally free ebook. This doesn't sound sustainable.

What are the main benefits for readers that will use eBook Fling?
It's a great opportunity for a try-before-you-buy, which actually benefits both readers and (good) authors.

What is your goal from a business point of view (in terms of users and revenue)?
Good question... I don't have much insight into what the ceiling could be. Still only 10% of avid readers even own an e-reading device. This whole model is risky because publishers could take a stand against Kindle and Nook lending all together. But if they begin embrace it as a result of sales from lending, this is going to be one exciting ride.

By the way, what do you think on the new restrictions of HarperCollins on the number of times their ebooks can be checked out in librarians?
I was never too familiar on how the system worked, but had assumed there were licensing limitations and was surprised that something like the 26-lend limit wasn't already in place. I'm told the reason for implementing this was to mimic the lifespan of a physical book, however I'm told that libraries RARELY throw out inventory due to damage and can easily squeeze 50 turns out of 1 copy.

I wouldn't think the 26-lend limit would be so bad, except a librarian friend of mine said the 26 lends must be shared with all sister libraries in the network, so in cases like this, I can see where the limitation can be burdensome to a library (or library network for that matter).

Thank you George and good luck! For more information on eBookFling visit http://ebookfling.com/

Raz @ Eco-Libris

Eco-Libris: Promoting sustainable reading!

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