About 15 minutes after my last post, recommending that we writers should pro-actively encourage lending, news started circulating that Amazon had forced Lendle to close down.

To be honest, I didn’t know of Lendle – it was after all only 6 weeks old. But I’m learning now that many thousands of book-lovers were already signed up, lending and borrowing their Kindle books just like those who use the service I described yesterday, Booklending.com.

Before I go further, let me make it clear that these sites were NOT latter-day Kazoos, designed to encourage indiscriminate copying of an artist’s work. The borrowing process was carefully circumscribed, using the API that Amazon itself introduced at the turn of the year: a single purchaser could lend each book properly purchased once only, and the book would be automatically returned to the purchaser after 14 days.

Why should I – as a writer – be keen to encourage this? Doesn’t it deprive me of sales? Absolutely not, if I take the long-term view. If I look at the books and the authors I love best, almost without exception I started reading because of the recommendation of a teacher or reviewer I respected, or a friend or a family member. In many cases, I was a borrower, then a convert, then a purchaser.

Seth Godin, social media’s poster-child, understands this. His latest scheme, The Domino Project, seeks new ways to spread ideas – through books – quickly. Godin is frustrated that while a tweet or a blog-post may gain exposure a thousand times in a few minutes, the book – ‘still an ideal tool for the hand-to-hand spreading of important ideas’ – is held back by slow publishers, inflexible and ill-considered pricing, and antiquated distribution.

Godin’s solution? His latest book, Poke the Box, was first released for $1 to early adopters, people who were sure to spread the word. Now officially released, the book is priced at $4.99 but readers who love it and want to share it with their friends or colleagues can get a special price for a 5-pack or a 52-pack of books – buy 14 and get 38 for free. Echoing Tim O’Reilly, Godin says:

Our enemy is not piracy; our enemy is not our best readers not paying for it; our enemy is obscurity.

Sharing then, borrowing, lending. All to spread ideas, to get people listening. And who are the co-sponsors of The Domino Project. Why, Amazon!

The same Amazon who yesterday told Lendle, in a no-reply email, that their website “does not serve the principal purpose of driving sales of products and services on the Amazon site.”

Search for #Lendle on Twitter and you’ll see, not anger, but sadness and resignation. Jeffrey Zeldman, (the inspiration behind the wonderful “A List Apart”), tweets:

“Sad to see Amazon shut down @jcroft’s lovely Lendle. Yesterday’s futurist is today’s future obstructor.”

Wasn’t it really inevitable that Amazon would yield to the publishers’ demands. Unlike Godin, publishers don’t peddle ideas; their bottom line is sales. And right now, immediate, short-term sales. Remember Amazon’s statement? They talked about their “principal purpose of driving sales of products and services”. So we know which camp they’re in. Not that I’m blaming them for trying to make money.

But there’s another issue. Here’s Jason Kincaid at TechCrunch:

It isn’t terribly surprising that Amazon is shutting Lendle down as it could conceivably lead to people buying fewer books, but it’s another reminder of the frustrations associated with DRM-laden content — you may have just paid $10 for a novel, but you don’t really own it.

Here we come to the real point: who owns our ebooks?

When I chose to be an independent author, I did so because I wanted to retain control over every aspect of my book’s publication. The cover, the pricing, the line-spacing, the distribution method, the relationship with my readers. Everything. Perhaps I would make mistakes along the way, but if I did, they would be mine too. Perhaps you’ll think me arrogant, but I’m not saying I won’t listen to advice, or ask for help, or listen to criticism. It’s just the same as being an employer, not an employee. If I get it right, I may win; if I don’t, I’ll fail.

I’m not saying either that any other writer has to make the same decisions as me. Some will want to encourage book-sharing; others may completely disagree with me. But that’s their choice. The point is, we have a choice.

One of the choices I’ve made is to allow my readers to share with other readers. I’m giving them the right to OWN the books they buy from me, with all the rights that ownership confers.

As I write, there’s still no sign that Amazon will try to snuff out Booklending.com too. Early days – I sincerely hope not. But if that were to happen, it’s not the end of the story. Seth Godin has shown us that we can still poke the box: if we want to allow our readers to share, we just need to use our imagination.

And there’s something else. Technology is inevitable. So we might as well embrace it.

24 hours after this article, Lendle was reinstated by Amazon and the service is now fully restored (- see my post “We’re Lendle-ing again – but maybe not in Japan“). However, the points I made in this post about ownership are still valid … so I’ll leave the post here.

The official announcement from Lendle
Seth Godin talking about The Domino Project at The Kindle Chronicles. (Find the audio clip below the fold, just above comments, and start listening at 20:00.)
Godin’s Poke The Box
Techcrunch: Amazon Gives Kindle Book-Swapping Service Lendle The Axe
A List Apart
Booklending.com – still operating – and waiting for you to share The Lebanese Troubles!