A look at eBook rentals

As the market for eBooks is starting to mature, publishers, technology companies and the buying public are beginning to change and shape the ways we interact with eBooks. Such market exploration is invariably a positive with new concepts introduced, tested, and sometimes, just as quickly, binned again.
One of the most discussed new applications is the eBook rental market. Many have likened this to a Netflix for eBooks, but this is to assume that we consume reading material in exactly the same way we enjoy film. Of course, that’s not the case. For many, the eBook rental market has struggled to be taken seriously. However for others, an eBook rental system in the mould of the public library is a logical next step in the development of this technology.

How does it work?

We’ve all shared electronic files at some point and, most of the time, handing them back has never been a necessity – when we’re done with them, we just hit the delete button. However, renting eBooks is different, as we must return the books at the end of the rental period. For many, it can be difficult to see the benefits of this. After all, the very concept of the eBook already has so many of the advantages of the public library built in that it can be difficult to see how renting them can provide any additional advantages.
The basic attraction of eBook rentals are much the same as for any eBook but, as with the public library for printed books, borrowing does give certain advantages over the traditional method of buying. With lower prices, rentals can be a convenient way of acquiring high-priced publications for short periods of time, making them particularly appropriate for students and academics, especially if the service allows the customer to complete the purchase should they wish to at a later date – a try-before-you-buy system.

Who’s doing it?

Whilst the technology involved is relatively young and new platforms have had to be developed to meet the market, a variety of suppliers now offer a range of packages based around convenient subscription payments. They market themselves as space-saving options for your devices.
However, as often happens with such changes in technology, there are concerns for the publishing industry and over fair rewards for authors – the creatives who produce the copy in the first place. After all, without them there’s no market. And whilst publishers are getting an amount per rental purchase, it’s not clear that there’s sufficient money trickling down to sustain the market, even before the ever-present risk of piracy is considered.
As with eBooks themselves, the market was opened up by smaller providers with the big boys finding their way in later. The first subscription services were introduced by companies such as Oyster Books and Scribd, which both came about at the turn of the decade and offered unlimited access to their eBook collections for a small monthly outlay. Their potential was quickly recognised, with the former being bought by Google in 2015.
Amazon too has made an entrance into the market with the launch of Kindle book rentals in early 2013. Initially their service was priced in 30-day increments that could be renewed on expiry, and instead of using the traditional download method of being limited to a number of devices, they’re limited by time instead. The pricing works out at about half that of a traditional eBook purchase, which makes it ideal for the rapid and prolific reader as well as the researcher, but continues to provide concerns for those writing and publishing content.

What future is there?

Naturally, this being a concept that has barely existed for five years, there’s lots of uncertainty as to how much it’ll catch on with the consumer. The early adopters are already there, but how far beyond that will eBook rentals stretch?
The fact that major companies are beginning to move in suggests they believe it’s more than a passing fad, but if it is to become the next big thing there’ll need to be a structure that allows some reward to trickle down to the publishing industry and the authors to sustain the supply of material.
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