Okay, this gets brought up a lot in reference to ebooks, so I think it bears some examination.

My friend Blue mentioned that one of the things that most bothers him about the Kindle in particular (and perhaps any DRM'd ebook in general) is the lack of an ability to loan a book to a friend.  First, let me state for the record my jealousy of Blue's well stocked Library.  It has been groomed and grown since as long as I've known him, and I have, in fact, been a lucky recipient of his beneficence.  I.e. he has loaned me books. 

As a reader, this is fantastic, because sometimes I'm just too afraid to jump in and buy new authors. (Truth be told this was much more true in the past than it is today, for a number of reasons.)  One of the most disappointing things in the world is purchasing a new book, getting it home and learning that for you, this one is a dud.  Not every reader clicks with every author.  Yeah, that sucks, from both ends of the equation.  Getting a loaner book or two is a fantastic way, as a reader to "test drive" an author.  Do you like their style.  Can they deliver on the promise.  Etc.  This is just like the old tried and true "cassette tape" idea, whereby you would make a tape of a few songs by some of your favorite bands, and give them to friends who might like them and think how awesome they are.  And become fans.  Which of course is part of the goal for readers when they share.  To turn their friends on to the types of things that they like.

Because, despite some appearances, in general people get it that if there is a large enough fanbase, it will eventually support the economics of keeping said author (rock band, artist, etc.) in business.  As readers, I believe we *do* get it that if not enough people are buying the books that it means that there might not be further books.  Especially those of us who are the types of readers who will bother to build up a loaner library of their favorite authors.  Many of us might not know how best to go about helping an author build up a fanbase, but that's a whole other post.

So it might seem a bit counterproductive on the face of it, I mean, if I loan Blue a book, say Goblin Quest  by Jim Hines a book I actually think he'd enjoy (yes Blue that is an actual endorsement I think you'd enjoy the whole Goblin series.  And now, I wonder how long before the FTC comes to hunt me down because I've just endorsed a book on my blog.) it could mean that I've cost Jim a sale.  But, I happen to know, that if I loan Blue the book, and he does in fact like it, it means that he'll likely go out and buy the other books in the series, and possibly some other books by Jim Hines in other series.  And in Blue's particular case, he is the type who just might go back and buy a copy of the book I loaned him anyway, just so he has the complete set.  Because not only is he a reader, he happens to also be the type who likes to collect books.  (Which is not everyone, so that's by no means a guarantee, but then, it's not even a guarantee that if I suggest or loan a book to him that he will, in fact, like it.)

So by now you're probably saying: um..duh.  You just described in several paragraphs what is colloquially known as "word of mouth" and you might even think I over did it at that.  But here's the thing.  Blue wants to replicate that same experience going forward into a digital medium.  I don't blame him.  I do too.  And that's why I get caught up in making what I call the hard choice.   Do I buy any individual book in dead tree edition, or do I buy it in digital form.   The idea that I'd be willing to loan out a book to certain responsible friends (IE people I trust to take care of my books and not return them barely readable) has always been a part of my social sphere.  I'm a book geek.  Many of my friends are also book geeks.  We read.  We enjoy reading, and we also enjoy chatting about books.   It's a lot harder to chat about books, if you haven't read the same books. What we desire is the shared experience.  And hence we recommend, and loan out books. 

To further make my dilemma worse, my wife is also a reader, and she will sometimes read genre stuff, though on occasion genre stuff annoys the crap out of her.  And since we have just the one Kindle, I have to think: will she read this book too?  Because if I think she might, I'll have to pick up the dead tree edition.  If its a book I figure only I'll read, then I feel okay buying the digital vesion.  Of course, as with anything that is a recommendation, there are no guarantees.  Some books I think she'll like she doesn't.  Sometimes I think she won't like a book, and she does.  Sometimes, she'll like an author, but the book creeps her out, and she hands it back to me saying, I can't read this.  (This can even happen based solely upon the cover.)  Since often she reads as a way to relax herself to get to sleep, i can't blame her.  Reading something too creepy right before bed has been known to mess with my sleep.

And more recently, I've had to consider author signings.  Going to conventions, and meeting many more authors these days, I've started to acquire, and even seek out autographs in books.  Until very recently, I never did that before.  That's just something you can't do with an ebook.  (For now, though I suspect that signed digital copies won't mean quite as much as signed physical copies do.  For me at least.)

Last thought on the print edition is this: when I walk around holding up a book to read, people will sometimes ask about it.  It's kind of a mini walking billboard for that book, and hence for that author.  You don't get that effect for ebooks, and you also don't get the random discussions with people about books or the author as I've occasionally had while out and about in the real world while holding an actual print edition. 

So wow, that's a whole lot of reasons that all sit in the against column in terms of the Kindle and ebooks in general.  You might wonder why me, as a rapid technogeek, enthusiastic supporter of the Kindle would bother doling out a long post that seems to point out all this in the way of negativity toward the product I'm a big supporter of.  Well, it's the truth.  I don't want to sweep these things under the rug, and pretend they aren't a valid concern.  It is a valid concern.  And I don't have an answer for it.  I myself have to think about this with every single book purchase I choose to make.  Sometimes the decision is easy.  Perhaps there is no ebook version available.  Or, in some cases, which I have yet to understand why, the ebook is more expensive than the physical book.  Yeah, that kind of thing makes life easy.   But those are less, and less the issues as both more publishers come out rapidly with the ebook and the folks setting the prices for the ebooks get their collective heads in gear and line things up more reasonably.

Is book loaning a good thing from the author's point of view?  I can't really speak much from personal experience at this point on that side of the fence.  However, the anecdotal info I have from authors with published novels is: when it works the way I described above, they appreciate it.  They like it when we help turn friends into fans. There are problems when we try to apply all of the above to the digital world, but that could be its own post in and of itself.  So we're left with this: the current technology available to readers doesn't well replicate the tried and true methods of loaning friends books.  We could try to find technological solutions to shoe horn that into working in the digital environment, and I've often heard it suggested.  The idea of being able to "loan out" a copy which would be temporarily removed from your device until it gets returned to you.  That's all neat, but frankly, I think we can all just admit that digital replication of the work completely voids the whole comparison.   I mean, I can't trivially make a copy of a print book.  I could photo copy it.  (*cough cough* been there, done that *cough*) I could retype it, and print it out for a friend.  It's feasible, just not all that practical.  With digital, it's point, click, done.  That simple.  And I think that means we need to consider how to shift the paradigm.

Which is to say: what do we get out of the loaning experience as readers.  What is the crux of what we want when we do that.  And how to we replicate *that* experience in the digital media.   As I see it, there are at least these bits involved:
  1. What's mine is yours.  By sharing books, we show physically our hospitality and our friendship.  It is tangible.  It says I'm willing to give you what I can to make your life better too.
  2. Shared experience.  By sharing the experience of the book, we can connect on more levels as friends.  The things that we have gone through together make us bond stronger as humans.  I think that's just a part of our nature, so by desiring to share experiences, it helps us bond together.
  3. Expanding the fan base, will keep the product coming.  People get this.  If you like something, and you want to see more of it, we know that we need to generate buzz.  We know we need to help create more demand, because like it or not, that's how economics works.  If there's not enough demand, there won't be any supply because it will be just too costly to create.
There's probably more than that, but I think that those are the underlying emotional components that we get out of loaning books.  I think that what gets talked about when this comes up is mostly parts 2 & 3.  But people don't always discuss part 1.  And I wonder that's as tied up in the spirit of books, in the same way when people discuss the "smell and feel" of books. 

So how about you, do you like to loan out your books?  Do you keep large collections?  Or just trade them in at first opportunity?  Do you even care if the ability to loan out books exists in the digital market?  Or do you figure that recommendations alone are enough?

Can you think of anything else on the topic I missed?

Okay, this gets brought up a lot in reference to ebooks, so I think it bears some examination.

My friend Blue mentioned that one of the things that most bothers him about the Kindle in particular (and perhaps any DRM'd ebook in general) is the lack of an ability to loan a book to a friend.  First, let me state for the record my jealousy of Blue's well stocked Library.  It has been groomed and grown since as long as I've known him, and I have, in fact, been a lucky recipient of his beneficence.  I.e. he has loaned me books. 

As a reader, this is fantastic, because sometimes I'm just too afraid to jump in and buy new authors. (Truth be told this was much more true in the past than it is today, for a number of reasons.)  One of the most disappointing things in the world is purchasing a new book, getting it home and learning that for you, this one is a dud.  Not every reader clicks with every author.  Yeah, that sucks, from both ends of the equation.  Getting a loaner book or two is a fantastic way, as a reader to "test drive" an author.  Do you like their style.  Can they deliver on the promise.  Etc.  This is just like the old tried and true "cassette tape" idea, whereby you would make a tape of a few songs by some of your favorite bands, and give them to friends who might like them and think how awesome they are.  And become fans.  Which of course is part of the goal for readers when they share.  To turn their friends on to the types of things that they like.

Because, despite some appearances, in general people get it that if there is a large enough fanbase, it will eventually support the economics of keeping said author (rock band, artist, etc.) in business.  As readers, I believe we *do* get it that if not enough people are buying the books that it means that there might not be further books.  Especially those of us who are the types of readers who will bother to build up a loaner library of their favorite authors.  Many of us might not know how best to go about helping an author build up a fanbase, but that's a whole other post.

So it might seem a bit counterproductive on the face of it, I mean, if I loan Blue a book, say Goblin Quest  by Jim Hines a book I actually think he'd enjoy (yes Blue that is an actual endorsement I think you'd enjoy the whole Goblin series.  And now, I wonder how long before the FTC comes to hunt me down because I've just endorsed a book on my blog.) it could mean that I've cost Jim a sale.  But, I happen to know, that if I loan Blue the book, and he does in fact like it, it means that he'll likely go out and buy the other books in the series, and possibly some other books by Jim Hines in other series.  And in Blue's particular case, he is the type who just might go back and buy a copy of the book I loaned him anyway, just so he has the complete set.  Because not only is he a reader, he happens to also be the type who likes to collect books.  (Which is not everyone, so that's by no means a guarantee, but then, it's not even a guarantee that if I suggest or loan a book to him that he will, in fact, like it.)

So by now you're probably saying: um..duh.  You just described in several paragraphs what is colloquially known as "word of mouth" and you might even think I over did it at that.  But here's the thing.  Blue wants to replicate that same experience going forward into a digital medium.  I don't blame him.  I do too.  And that's why I get caught up in making what I call the hard choice.   Do I buy any individual book in dead tree edition, or do I buy it in digital form.   The idea that I'd be willing to loan out a book to certain responsible friends (IE people I trust to take care of my books and not return them barely readable) has always been a part of my social sphere.  I'm a book geek.  Many of my friends are also book geeks.  We read.  We enjoy reading, and we also enjoy chatting about books.   It's a lot harder to chat about books, if you haven't read the same books. What we desire is the shared experience.  And hence we recommend, and loan out books. 

To further make my dilemma worse, my wife is also a reader, and she will sometimes read genre stuff, though on occasion genre stuff annoys the crap out of her.  And since we have just the one Kindle, I have to think: will she read this book too?  Because if I think she might, I'll have to pick up the dead tree edition.  If its a book I figure only I'll read, then I feel okay buying the digital vesion.  Of course, as with anything that is a recommendation, there are no guarantees.  Some books I think she'll like she doesn't.  Sometimes I think she won't like a book, and she does.  Sometimes, she'll like an author, but the book creeps her out, and she hands it back to me saying, I can't read this.  (This can even happen based solely upon the cover.)  Since often she reads as a way to relax herself to get to sleep, i can't blame her.  Reading something too creepy right before bed has been known to mess with my sleep.

And more recently, I've had to consider author signings.  Going to conventions, and meeting many more authors these days, I've started to acquire, and even seek out autographs in books.  Until very recently, I never did that before.  That's just something you can't do with an ebook.  (For now, though I suspect that signed digital copies won't mean quite as much as signed physical copies do.  For me at least.)

Last thought on the print edition is this: when I walk around holding up a book to read, people will sometimes ask about it.  It's kind of a mini walking billboard for that book, and hence for that author.  You don't get that effect for ebooks, and you also don't get the random discussions with people about books or the author as I've occasionally had while out and about in the real world while holding an actual print edition. 

So wow, that's a whole lot of reasons that all sit in the against column in terms of the Kindle and ebooks in general.  You might wonder why me, as a rapid technogeek, enthusiastic supporter of the Kindle would bother doling out a long post that seems to point out all this in the way of negativity toward the product I'm a big supporter of.  Well, it's the truth.  I don't want to sweep these things under the rug, and pretend they aren't a valid concern.  It is a valid concern.  And I don't have an answer for it.  I myself have to think about this with every single book purchase I choose to make.  Sometimes the decision is easy.  Perhaps there is no ebook version available.  Or, in some cases, which I have yet to understand why, the ebook is more expensive than the physical book.  Yeah, that kind of thing makes life easy.   But those are less, and less the issues as both more publishers come out rapidly with the ebook and the folks setting the prices for the ebooks get their collective heads in gear and line things up more reasonably.

Is book loaning a good thing from the author's point of view?  I can't really speak much from personal experience at this point on that side of the fence.  However, the anecdotal info I have from authors with published novels is: when it works the way I described above, they appreciate it.  They like it when we help turn friends into fans. There are problems when we try to apply all of the above to the digital world, but that could be its own post in and of itself.  So we're left with this: the current technology available to readers doesn't well replicate the tried and true methods of loaning friends books.  We could try to find technological solutions to shoe horn that into working in the digital environment, and I've often heard it suggested.  The idea of being able to "loan out" a copy which would be temporarily removed from your device until it gets returned to you.  That's all neat, but frankly, I think we can all just admit that digital replication of the work completely voids the whole comparison.   I mean, I can't trivially make a copy of a print book.  I could photo copy it.  (*cough cough* been there, done that *cough*) I could retype it, and print it out for a friend.  It's feasible, just not all that practical.  With digital, it's point, click, done.  That simple.  And I think that means we need to consider how to shift the paradigm.

Which is to say: what do we get out of the loaning experience as readers.  What is the crux of what we want when we do that.  And how to we replicate *that* experience in the digital media.   As I see it, there are at least these bits involved:
  1. What's mine is yours.  By sharing books, we show physically our hospitality and our friendship.  It is tangible.  It says I'm willing to give you what I can to make your life better too.
  2. Shared experience.  By sharing the experience of the book, we can connect on more levels as friends.  The things that we have gone through together make us bond stronger as humans.  I think that's just a part of our nature, so by desiring to share experiences, it helps us bond together.
  3. Expanding the fan base, will keep the product coming.  People get this.  If you like something, and you want to see more of it, we know that we need to generate buzz.  We know we need to help create more demand, because like it or not, that's how economics works.  If there's not enough demand, there won't be any supply because it will be just too costly to create.
There's probably more than that, but I think that those are the underlying emotional components that we get out of loaning books.  I think that what gets talked about when this comes up is mostly parts 2 & 3.  But people don't always discuss part 1.  And I wonder that's as tied up in the spirit of books, in the same way when people discuss the "smell and feel" of books. 

So how about you, do you like to loan out your books?  Do you keep large collections?  Or just trade them in at first opportunity?  Do you even care if the ability to loan out books exists in the digital market?  Or do you figure that recommendations alone are enough?

Can you think of anything else on the topic I missed?

.

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