Amazon has launched a new service that will allow US-based Kindle users to borrow ebooks from 11,000 libraries around the country.
The system will work on the same free borrowing principle as any conventional library book except that ebooks won't have to be physically returned and will simply expire after a period determined by each library.
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Indeed, members won't even have to visit the library at all to borrow ebooks and will be able to download them after logging into their Kindle account by entering a valid membership number on the library's website. Books will transfer via Wi-Fi or USB but not 3G.
A clever feature is that any annotations or bookmarks added to a borrowed title will be retrievable should the book expire and be borrowed again at a later date.
The arrival of ebook lending has looked inevitable for some time and has the potential to transform the nature of everyday lending libraries for good. The traditional library is unlikely to disappear completely any time soon but the ability of members to borrow many books remotely without visiting one is certain to change their role.
"Starting today, millions of Kindle customers can borrow Kindle books from their local libraries. Libraries are a critical part of our communities and we're excited to be making Kindle books available at more than 11,000 local libraries around the country, said Amazon Kindle director, Jay Marine."
Offering a similar service in the UK is not on the cards for now. Integrating library lending systems with Amazon's Kindle store required the involvement of a separate company, OverDrive, which markets itself to US customers.
A UK launch would require a similar partner to be found and the agreement of numerous local authorities notoriously unwilling to invest money in such services.
Earlier this year, Amazon introduced the ability to rent textbooks using a Kindle. The company has also claimed it is selling more ebooks than physical books in the US market. Last year Amazon started offering limited lending of ebooks between users.