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Amazon Prime Kindle Lending Library Opens For Business — With A Catch

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Two weeks ahead of the shipping date for the Kindle Fire, Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) is adding more to its all-you-can-eat media buffet for Amazon Prime members. The $79 annual fee started as a break on shipping costs and earlier this year expanded to include free on-demand TV shows and movies. Today Amazon Prime does the same for e-books, offering more than 5,000 titles free to Kindle users with memberships. The catch?

The books are available only on Kindle devices, not the the entire Kindle platform. That’s why it’s called the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. Also, only one book can be checked out at a time. Borrowing is easy. Prime members like me just click on the borrow option instead of buy, like I just did for Ruth Rendell’s The Minotaur.

The number of titles is a drop in the bucket given that Amazon currently boasts more than 1 million e-books in the Kindle store. It does include more than 100 current or former New York Times bestsellers like Moneyball. It also includes Angry Birds: Video Game Guide, a number of Amazon’s own titles and Kindle Singles. In that sense, it resembles the video selections — mostly TV shows that are off the air and older movies. But not everyone wants the latest and the selection is decent.

The book I just downloaded is one I wouldn’t buy at $9.99. I might check it out of my home library but I’m in a hotel in West Hollywood tonight. My library’s e-book selection is pretty limited despite adding the Kindle titles recently, and I’m almost through the titles that interest me. If I read 10-12 books a year from the Kindle library, that membership fee looks pretty reasonable. Add in the video, which I don’t use on the PC but expect to with the Kindle Fire, and it looks even better. If Amazon can add music — it already offers some free, but not through Prime, that could be a tough-to-beat media package for $79 a year.

You don’t have to pay to try it out. Amazon offers a free one-month trial. Kindle Fire buyers may want to wait until delivery to sign up.