Amazon just lowered the price of its Kindle to $79, but soon anyone with a library card may be able to borrow one of the devices for free.
At a time when many libraries are already lending out e-books, one of the country's biggest book lenders is considering going a step further and loaning out the e-readers themselves. According to Anthony Marx, the president of the New York Public Library, the system, which serves more than 2.2 million borrowers, is looking at making e-readers available for check out. The move, he says, would be a natural extension of the library's mission to get people to "read more and think more" -- even though people without an e-reader could, of course, just borrow a regular off-line book. And, experts say, if New York is considering it, other libraries around the country are as well.
Already Kindle-equipped readers have gotten used to borrowing e-books from the library. E-books have been available in different formats for some time, but on Sept. 21, Amazon (AMZN)
For consumers, it also means savings. E-books typically cost around $10 each; last year, readers spent just under $1 billion on e-books. Researchers project that figure will grow to $5 billion in the next three years, helped in part by the growing options for e-readers. Earlier this month, Amazon introduced a new full-color Kindle designed as part e-reader, part tablet; it also cut the price on its entry-level Kindle to $79 -- or roughly the cost of three hard-cover books.
Even so, library e-book borrowing may not be for everyone. Just as with borrowing a physical book, you can't keep an e-book forever: they disappear from the device after two weeks. Selection is limited, and popular titles often aren't available without a wait. To put things in perspective, of the New York Public Library's 53 million holdings, just 76,292 are e-books.
But given the convenience of instantly downloading free e-books from your living room, some in the publishing world fear it may soon no longer make sense to ever buy books again. "I'm not anti-Amazon, but I'm against anything that makes it harder to make it as a writer," said Adam Ross, author of the novel "Mr. Peanut," and the short-story collection "Ladies and Gentleman. "It's damn hard enough to get a book written, and when you do, you're talking very low numbers financially."