Lending versus sharing

Lending versus sharing

A reader recently suggested that I address this in post through a private communication, and while I have talked about it somewhat before, I think that the situation warrants a little clarity.

When you “buy a book” from the Kindle store, you are actually buying a license. You own the license as much as you would own a copy of a paperbook (for more on that, see my post,  How an e-book is like a treadmill at the gym). The license is subject to conditions that are in place when you buy it…some of them are great for readers, some arguably not as good. 🙂

There are two easily confused terms that are involved here, although they actually are quite different: “sharing” and “lending”. I often see people using the term “sharing” when what they are actually asking about is “lending”.

When you share a Kindle book with someone, you are an equal owner of it. You both have the same rights to it. It is like sharing a bank account, or sharing the family car.

When you lend a Kindle book to someone, you still own the license, but you are allowing someone else to have temporary custody of it, so they can use it.

Sharing in the Kindle store is a marvelous thing! It is one of the best things about e-books versus p-books (paperbooks). Everybody on the account can share compatible Kindle store books. We have four people on our account, in two timezones. We can pay for a book (license) once…let’s just say $9.99. We can typically all read that same book at the same time…for just that $9.99 price.

That works much better for us than p-books ever did! I can’t imagine taking one p-book, having it start here in California in one household, then carting it (or mailing it) to another California household, and then off to the other side of the country! We’d also have to read it one at a time, taking turns. It’s much more fun to be able to read a book at the same time as my Significant Other, and then we can compare our impressions of it at the end (if we want).

All you have to do is be on the same account.

How many devices can you have registered to the same account?

There is no limit!

That’s right: you could have 1,000 devices or more (representing, oh, let’s call it five hundred people) on one account, and you could all read the same book for just the one download price.

Now, there is typically a limitation to that, and it is an important one. The publishers put a “simultaneous device limit” (SDL) on each book. That’s how many devices can have it licensed at the same time. Unless it says otherwise on the book’s Amazon product page, that number is six. Some books have fewer licenses (I have actually seen it to be as low as one, but that’s very rare…I think that was a textbook), some are unlimited (that’s often true on public domain freebies).

However, six is quite a few. 🙂

Let’s say that the seven dwarves all want to read the same book and are on the same Kindle account. Let’s also say that it has the typical six device limit.

The first six dwarves download it with no problem.

When the seventh dwarf goes to download it, it will inform the latecomer that there aren’t any more licenses available.

When one of the other dwarves finishes the book, removes it from the device, and syncs with Amazon, that license will then be available for that one who was late to the literary party.

That dwarf doesn’t own the e-book license any less than the others…it’s just that six devices at a time is the limit.

Are there times when you might want more than six licenses? Sure, I could see that with schools, businesses, and so on. Amazon recognized that need, and started a new service (which I still need to explore more), called Whispercast:

Amazon revolutionizes mass distribution with Whispercast

So, that’s sharing. You all own the book equally, can each have it for as long as you want. Even without Whispercast, this can work very, very well. One tip: people sometimes ask what to do about paying for the books, if you are trying to keep finances separate. That’s true for one of the people on our account. What you can do there is have the person who has a separate Amazon account “gift” the book to the sharing account. That way, they can pay for it however they like.

Here’s how that works:

My relative gifts the book to me. I receive an e-mail, and accept the gift. It’s then available to all of us, and my relative can download it and read it.

It means the book isn’t instantly available to my relative (I have to acknowledge the e-mail first), but with me, it’s the same day, typically, and often within an hour. 🙂

All Kindle store books can be shared in this way. Some e-books are not compatible with some devices (some require a large screen, for example, so they might not be available to a free Kindle reading app for a phone), but that’s unusual.

Lending a Kindle book is very different. The publisher has to enable lending…and the Big Six publishers generally don’t.

There are serious limitations on lending:

  • You can only loan the book for fourteen days
  • While your recipient has the book, you can not read it
  • You can only loan a book once…ever. If you loan a book to your friend, you can’t later loan it to a family member

Those may seem severe, but publishers aren’t required to let you loan the book at all, under the law.

Even though the biggest publishers don’t enable lending, I would guess the majority of books in the Kindle store are able to be loaned. That’s because Amazon really tries to encourage it. Independent publishers (and that is often just an author) can only get the higher 70% royalty (as opposed to 35%) if they follow a number of guidelines…and one of those is enabling lending.

Still, I think most people find lending not all that useful…if you do use it a lot, feel free to comment on this post and let me know.

For more information on the mechanics of lending see

Amazon’s Kindle lending help page

but feel free to ask if you have any questions.

There you have it! Sharing is a beautiful, beautiful thing. Lending is a lot more limited, but I’m sure some people make use of it.

I’m sticking to those core differences here, although this is a large topic. If you have any other questions, or comments, feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

4 Responses to “Lending versus sharing”

  1. Cassandra Blankenship Says:

    Great job on explaining sharing vs lending. Thanks for listening the other day!!

  2. Edward Boyhan Says:

    Sometimes these kinds of things aren’t as clear as they might be because there are different scenarios or points of view when describing these features. In the case of sharing, there’s the sharer and the shareee. Sometimes (although not perhaps for sharing) how you explain/make a feature clear is to be very precise about whether you are describing something from the point of view of the sharer or the point of view of the sharee.

    For me this is more important for lending: there there is a lender, and a borrower. In your explanation the lender is the putative license holder, and the borrower could be just about anyone. If we want to consider the restrictions on lending, we could possibly say that the publisher and/or the author also are in part the lender as well.

    I belabor this because one kind of borrower/lender transaction you did not cover is KOLL. I’d suggest for completeness that that kind of lending/borrowing should be described as well, and it is in the KOLL scenario that the roles of lender and borrower are key and quite different from the borrower/lenders in the book lending scenario you described in this post :grin.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      Sometimes, “completeness” can lead to confusion. 🙂 When I started writing this post, I knew it could easily run to 100,000 words…in which case, it would be unlikely people would read ten thousand of them. 🙂 If I write a thousand, I think more people are likely to read the majority of those words, and I do think most of my readers read all of them.

      That’s why I said,

      “I’m sticking to those core differences here, although this is a large topic.”

      I had to make myself not bring in public library lending, for example, which sometimes gets asked. Naturally, the KOLL (Kindle Owners’ Lending Library) would need to come into that discussion. To really cover the broader topic, I would also need to discuss: lending the physical Kindle; sharing your books postmortem; Digital Rights Management (DRM); and copyright issues, to name a few.

      I chose to stick strictly to two common peer to peer scenarios…and ones where I’ve seen both confusion and opportunity.

      You are correct: lending, under this system, requires the involvement of the publisher (I’d be surprised if many authors negotiate the lending aspect when licensing the book to the publisher…I would guess it basically falls under the publisher’s marketing responsibilities, but I may look into that. When an author makes the book available to the public, that author is a publisher).

      I do try and remind myself of a training adage: “When someone asks you what time it is, you don’t need to tell them how to build a clock.” 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: