Tuesday, March 22, 2011

eBook Lending: Update on Lendle Take Down

Following on from the news yesterday that Amazon had revoked the API license (and Associate accounts) of the 6 week old bookswap/ lending site, Lendle issued a statement last night quoting Amazon's reason for the withdrawal is that Lendle does not “serve the principal purpose of driving sales of products and services on the Amazon site.”

CuriousFor those who don't know, Amazon has programs set up whereby anyone - from big business to someone sitting in their living room on a laptop - can earn money, or a sales 'commission', by referring customers to Amazon. The commissions aren't big, just a few percent (pennies on books), but if you refer large volume and have tens of thousands of users, the pennies add up. It's popular on blogs, but good business on large forums, coupon websites, review or comparison websites.

I have an associate account though my main purpose is not to drive sales to Amazon; it's to provide information to Amazon's customers on one of their best products, the Kindle. Similarly, Lendle wasn't necessarily pushing book sales but linking people with books so they could swap. They did have a requirement that to borrow books, you must lend books... and to lend books, you must buy books.

A site like Lendle is a lot to put together, takes a significant amount of work. Aside from blogging (which I do for fun), I run 2 websites for businesses that I own. It's can be hard full time work! But on those sites, I sell physical products. Since Lendle was free to members, it's only fair to assume (and fair to expect) that they made money from referrals... i.e. people buying books. Otherwise really, what would be the point of such a full time venture? Blogging for fun is one thing; putting together such a site and managing it is another altogether.

My point? Lendle must have been making money to make the venture worthwhile; and if Lendle was making money then it was driving sales on the Amazon site - which makes Amazon's reasoning invalid.
If they were not driving sales then they made no money - and I've yet to hear of Amazon closing associate accounts for lack of referrals. That would mean the vast majority of bloggers would have their accounts closed.

I am not sure how it differs from the other ebook swap websites that are still standing. Some others, according to the statement, also lost their API license yesterday, though others are still standing. Perhaps it was so obviously geared towards Kindle, instead of being a general ebook site. I don't know, and neither does Jeff Croft, co-founder of Lendle. He speculates that perhaps pressure from something "a bit bigger" caused this to happen, that maybe publishers are a bit skittish about a well organized effort to link borrowers and lenders. Unable to correspond with anyone at Amazon, Croft's not getting any more detail on what he would need to do differently to keep Amazon happy. Maybe that's because it's not Amazon pulling the strings.

I can see that happening, publishers getting ansty about swapping ebooks. Several of the big publishing houses were quick to jump into the controversial Agency model; the system whereby online bookstores aren't 'selling' the ebook but are just a venue, so the publishers control the pricing and Amazon et al. are not permitted to discount them. Smacks of price fixing to me, and is under investigation in the UK. So perhaps the publishers are getting ahead of themselves. No doubt they aren't all huge fans of ebooks: ebooks and Amazon mean that authors can self publish and self advertise! Taking control of pricing was the start. Next up, pressuring Amazon to prevent organized swaps.

They can't stop it happening altogether - losing the license doesn't mean Lendle has to close down their website. They could still run it, they just can't make money from it, and that's far less tempting to do on a large scale.

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