With major publishers so far reticent to sanction a rental market for e-books, BookSwim.com, the New Jersey-based print-book rental company billed as “the Netflix of books,” told PW it plans to launch a new site called eBookToss.com, a virtual “e-book swap” that will facilitate the direct lending of e-books between consumers using the lending features enabled by platforms like the Kindle, and the Nook. “We’ve been talking to publishers about the concept of e-book rentals, but we don’t really know how possible that is,” BookSwim CEO George Burke told PW. “But, based on the announcement from Amazon in December [about enabling loans], we think we’ve found a model.” Burke said the site could go live as early as next week.
As envisioned, eBookToss.com will pool users to create an online list of lendable e-books and will facilitate free loans directly between users, entirely contingent on features enabled by e-book providers. BookSwim is not the first to come up with the concept—a Web site called ebooklendinglibrary.com has been quietly operating a forum and a bulletin board to facilitate e-book loans between consumers, but it not very sophisticated and has generated only light traffic thus far. “[Ebooklendinlilbrary.com] is trying to retrofit a message board into a swapping community,” Burke observed, noting inherent scalability issues with the model, such as posts getting buried quickly, if the site were to take off. BookSwim’s eBookToss.com would be different—more like physical book swap sites BookMooch.com or Paperbackswap.com—attracting a critical mass of users to make books available, with BookSwim acting as a middleman, Burke explained, “to effectively connect lenders and borrowers, and ensure the transaction.”
The technology and user interface may be the least of the challenges facing BookSwim. E-book lending so far is hampered by highly restrictive terms on both the Kindle and the Nook. For example, books first must be eligible to be lent—in other words, the agreement with publishers must permit lending, and for popular titles, publishers frequently disable the feature. In addition, Kindle and Nook books can be loaned only once, and only for a period of 14 days.
E-book lending is becoming one of the more vexing issue facing publishers, consumers, libraries and readers in the digital age, as comsumers mostly don't own the e-books they buy, but simply own access to them. Burke said he doesn't expect eBookToss.com to be a big moneymaker, but expects to make money in a few ways, inlcuding perhaps selling ebooks via affiliate links. But, he hopes, if the site becomes popular it will influence publishers as well as platform providers like Amazon, B&N, and Google, to allow more flexibility in how their books are lent, and eventually, perhaps, rented. "When publishers see that this is super popular, and hopefully it will be, then we can show that people want to rent these books,that they are willing to pay something to read them."