Blog Post

The e-book lending wars: When authors attack

We’ve written before about how complicated the process of lending an e-book is, and how much of this is a result of conflicting DRM locks and platforms, as well as a reluctance on the part of publishers to allow their books to be loaned. But authors can also be a roadblock when it comes to lending, and we’ve just had a classic example of how that can happen with the brouhaha over LendInk, a service that allowed readers to connect with others in order to share e-books. The site has effectively been put out of business by a virtual lynch mob of authors claiming it breached their rights, even though what it was doing was perfectly legal.

Much of the negative response to LendInk came about because of a series of misunderstandings about how the service worked, and also a lack of knowledge about how Amazon (s amzn) handles lending for Kindle books. But the incident also says a lot about how authors view lending of e-books to begin with — many seem to see every book loaned as a potential sale that has been lost, just as the music industry used to look down on file-sharing of music as theft. But they are just as wrong.

Fear of piracy mixed with misunderstanding

It’s not clear how or why LendInk first attracted the recent fuss, since the service — which has been run by a single individual, founder owner Dale Porter — has been around for close to two years. At some point, an author noticed that their book was listed as being available for lending on the site, and sounded the alarm on Twitter, as well as discussion forums devoted to Kindle-published authors, saying the site was pirating their content. This eventually turned into a hue and cry by dozens of authors, all of whom called on their colleagues to send LendInk copyright-takedown notices under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Those notices ultimately had the desired effect, and the company’s website was taken offline by its web-hosting provider. The situation was complicated by the fact that the service had more or less been running on auto-pilot for about 18 months because Porter — a disabled army veteran — had been dealing with health issues. As a result, copyright notices and angry emails from authors didn’t get an immediate reply, and that likely caused the anger to escalate.

In most cases, the authors who got the most upset about LendInk completely misunderstood the purpose of the website. To them, it looked as though the service was hosting copies of their books and allowing anyone to borrow them, something that would clearly be a breach of their rights as copyright holders — like an e-book version of MegaUpload.

Some authors are against sharing on principle

In fact, however, all LendInk did was allow readers who already owned e-books to connect with other readers who wanted to borrow them. As Porter explained in a statement posted to a reader forum, only books that had already been approved for lending by Amazon could be shared through the service, in the same way they can with services such as Lendle (whose CEO has posted a response to the LendInk incident).

Some authors didn’t even seem to be aware that their books could be loaned under the terms of their agreement with Amazon to publish on the Kindle, and a few later apologized for their attacks on LendInk — but others seemed unrepentant about their criticism, and argued that built-in approval for lending of e-books between complete strangers was somehow wrong. At least one author argued that sharing of books was fine between two friends, but not between two people who had been connected by a website or service like LendInk.

Aside from the misunderstandings about the service, the dissatisfaction felt by some authors about the whole idea of e-book lending seems to be driven by the same impulse that keeps publishers from making sharing easier: namely, the idea that every book that gets shared is a book that isn’t bought, despite the fact that plenty of evidence shows that sharing — and even outright piracy — in many cases helps increase the demand for content. As musician Neil Young put it recently: “Piracy is the new radio — it’s how music gets around.”

The sooner authors and publishers get used to that idea, the better off they will be. And taking down an innocent web service, whose only purpose was to try and increase the potential market for their books, is just an attempt to postpone the inevitable.

Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Flickr users Jeremy Mates and Mike Licht

40 Responses to “The e-book lending wars: When authors attack”

  1. Libraries. Second Hand Bookshops. Weekend Markets.
    I can sell my physical books and get 30-40% of the retail back. None of that money goes to Authors or Publishers. eBooks on the other hand, I can usually only read on one device, and then when I’m finished reading it, I can’t lend it to anyone, I can’t sell it to anyone else…Where are my rights as a consumer?

  2. RealisticExpectations

    As I recall, the LendInk thing came on the heels of authors responding to at least two websites that offer pirated copies of e-books. These sites seem to operate under the delusion that being hosted out of Canada keeps them out of the reach of copyright law, which is ridiculous. Canada’s copyright laws are at least as strong as those in the U.S. when it comes to physical books, as well as e-books.

    So then the book lending site came to some of those authors’ attention, I don’t believe the authors in question understood that when they publish their e-books at Amazon, there is an option to allow the lending of books to others. The book may be lent ONCE by someone who has purchased it, and it may no longer be lent after that. I read the pubilshing agreement Amazon provided when I published my first book, so I knew that was something that could (and hopefully WOULD) happen.

    (Hey, if someone borrows one of my books and reads it, and decides that s/he absolutely has to have their own copy, that’s a win for me, right?)

    It did not help that when authors contacted Amazon about LendInk that Amazon said “Oh, we didn’t approve this site lending books!” but didn’t clarify that it was still something that was allowed between the purchaser of a single copy of their e-book and a reader who perhaps wanted to read the book, but couldn’t afford to buy it.

    LendInk put purchases of e-books together with people who wanted to read them. That’s an excellent thing for people who like to read a particular author, but either have no friends who read that author or have no money to buy books, even cheaper e-books, right now. Most all of us are in the champagne taste but beer budget way of living right now.

    As for this situation, I looked into the matter before I did anything irretrievable, so I didn’t fly off the handle. Now those authors who did are feeling the heat and are heartily embarrassed. From what I have been reading elsewhere, they wish to make amends and help the guy who runs/ran the site.

    Hindsight is 20/20 and all that. I’m fairly certain that these authors will pay much more attention to the fine print in any contract to which they affix their electronic (or physical) signature.

    • I am one of the authors whose books were on this guy’s site and I filed a DMCA notice. I find it strange, nay, coincidental (ha ha) that those SAME books all wound up on a pirate site yesterday. As for libraries the comparison in ludicrous. The average lifespan of a popular book in a library is 200 borrows before it is removed from circulation. An ebook’s lifespan is limitless. But that isn’t really the point. Ebooks are uploaded and distributed freely for others’ use and also for profit – but not for the profit of those who created the book in the first place. How is that fair? I have to jump through hoops to get my illegally uploaded books down from pay sites but these sellers don’t have to prove a damned thing to make money off my back…

      • A Book Reader Who Supports Authors who don't Slander

        He had no copies of your books so therefore it could not have gotten on the pirated site from him. The site used Amazons legal API. I as a purchaser was given the right to lend my book once and only once for 14 days. If I go on to a site like LendInk or and type in the book I am legally allowed to lend, it sends an electronic query to Amazons servers to get the book info and cover art (all legal). Then I am put in contact with a person who might want to borrow it. Then I the purchaser have the choice to exercise my right to loan my book (which was Authorised by the author when it was uploaded to Amazon. The person I loan it to is then directed to Amazon’s site to accept the loan…because Amazon is where the book FILE IS!

        If I as a borrower go to a site like LendInk and the book I am interested in is NOT LENDABLE I am given the option to purchase it through Amazon where the AUTHOR is then given the royalties from the book. If a site is an Amazon Affiliate they get a small commission for directing traffic to Amazon (the commission is taken from Amazons portion of the sale not the authors royalties).

        Your books were never hosted on this site, the info came from Amazons servers. It was LEGALLY helping book buyers exercise a right we have when purchasing a book from Amazon. Something authors agree to when signing their contract with Amazon. Mr. Porter was not selling anything much less your books.

        What he did provide was a platform where someone might discover your book, borrow one in a manner that is 100% legal), like the book and go on to purchase your other books. He did the exact same thing sites like ebook fling, lendle, and Booklending do. Are you going to send DMCA notices there to?

        The fact that LendInk was doing NOTHING illegal has been discussed and proven ad nauseum.

        Here is what you did, you made accusations based upon rumor, and not actual facts. You FALSELY accused Mr. Porter (a vet) of theft and piracy. You are continuing to do so now. Even after reading a blog post explaining that it was legal and why!

        You have actually become the thief. Because of your false DMCA claim along with others the host site cannot keep up with all of the false claims. They are still getting them. So you have effectively stolen his website (his property). You have slandered him with false accusations and thereby STOLEN HIS REPUTATION!

        I will never purchase a book from any author who participated in this theft against LendInk unless they do the following.

        1. Apologize for their actions publically, not on a blog comment, but on their own website or blog, without trying to blame Mr. Potor for any wrongdoing (You were WRONG, he was in the RIGHT),
        2. Also publicly apologize on Twitter and Facebook once for every time they posted their false claim against LendInk, and in any other forum (i.e. Kindleboards).
        3. Donate money to the fundraiser (search LendInk Fundraiser on Google) with an apology there, in order recompense the owner of LendInk for the slander and theft of his site.

  3. Library Lover

    Strangers lend and borrow everyday in over 14,000 locations across the US – they are called Public Libraries. This practice has been going on for centuries. It is how people discover new favorite authors, it is how children have access to more books then their parents could ever afford, it is how people who love to read and want to learn can afford to do so.
    I cannot believe that all of a sudden this practice of lending books to “strangers” is a bad thing. If it is properly purchased and paid for, and not an illegal copied version – I see no difference at all.

  4. I am an author and I have been a persistent victim of piracy. I’ve suffered through my books popping up on torrent sites and dozens of pirate sites, most of which refuse to acknowledge legitimate DMCA notices. Within hours of my new books being published my work is offered for free. I’m sorry but I’m not an intern and I like paying my bills. I also think those who argue that piracy is okay for authors have NO idea what it’s like. It SUCKS to see your ebooks bundled on cds and sold for the price of a cup of coffee – by sellers who had nothing to do with the book. These illegal sales hurt my publishers, my editors, artists and me – the one who sat at the computer for days, weeks and months toiling over each and every word. Lending to strangers is not lending. It’s distributing for free and it hurts authors. That’s the simple, hard truth.

    • RealisticExpectations

      Jackie, that book is only available on that person’s Kindle for a whopping 15 days. If they haven’t read it in those two weeks, they’re out of luck. It times out after that and is thereafter not only unavailable to the person who borrowed it, but the person who bought that book is unable to ever lend it again.

  5. Javier Pizzo

    I hate seeing sites coming down this way, but for me, the authors have a valid point of view. Slowly but surely other proposals for authors like will benefit from this trends.

  6. eBookNoir

    Reblogged this on eBookNoir and commented:
    Good start to some discussions, but as I commented, there is a lot more to this discussion, just read many of my posts or my own articles on GigaOM on the topic. It will be a long running topic of conversation for some time.

  7. eBookNoir

    Having written a few articles on eBook lending and dealing with it from k12 – academic libraries I can easily say this is a small part of the eBook lending wars. There is more to it, way more to it. You not only have rights to deal with, but the type of libraries, their systems, devices, apps, users that don’t know any of this. Limited use ability of content as well, one person is using the eBook, nobody else can. Another challenge is fiction vs non-fiction vs academic research content and the list goes on. Now you have amazon jumping into the textbook business, libraries work with those as well, depending on your state, district, consortia.

    What I am trying to illustrate is that there are so many cogs, for lack of a better description, in the grand machine of eBooks, libraries and lending that although everyone wants it to be simple, it isn’t and won’t be. Not too mention, as an author, publisher, anyone selling content, you want to make money on it, that’s a major goal, or no more content.

  8. rowena cherry

    Your argument presupposes that the books being lent were purchased by the lender, and that therefore there was a sale.

    This is not necessarily true. Many authors willingly participate in a 5 day giveaway on Amazon. The purpose of the limited time giveaway is to get attention, but for the books to sell at a regular price after that promo window.

    When limited time free books are subsequently promoted (free) on lending sites, that lending undermines sales and the purpose of the original free read.

    That Amazon treats limited time free reads the same as a sale, and allows the lending of copies that were not paid for is something authors should look into.

    Proof, snagged from an EBookFling newsletter “Even if it’s not your cup of tea, you can add it to your eBookFling library and fling it to all those fools who missed out on today’s opportunity.”

  9. First of all Publishers and Authors need to stop charging so much for digital media. It is easily reproduced, so why should we have to pay $5-$20 a book. Secondly, if they also all did it in epub format that would be better, then you can use any reader and keep that book always.

    • RealisticExpectations

      Not all of us do charge that much for one of our books. Many indie authors are publishing their e-books at 99 cents and up. My novel, for instance, is offered at 3.99 for the e-book version. I thought that was a very reasonable price that also allowed me to make a little money on what I’d spent so much time and effort writing.

      As for DRM, e-book distributors such as do not allow e-books to be submitted with DRM. Now, if you have Smashwords submit your e-book to Apple, I don’t know if Apple applies DRM to the e-book, but then, Apple’s it’s own critter, anyway.

  10. mkvXstream

    If sharing is wrong than all public libraries should be shut down for piracy. As consumers we should start voteing with our dollars and stop supporting those organizations that perpetrate this nonsense.

  11. Baen Books ( has no DRM on it\’s books. It has a free library with lots of FREE books. They actively encourage readers to give baen ebooks to their friends to read and enjoy. They even give CDs with all the books an author has written through an independent website ( Their policy is outlined in this essay by Eric Flint at
    I am not advertising for them. It\’s just that this generous approach works for me. I have bought more than $300 worth of books from them over the past 3 years. They give you so much for free that when you buy one it\’s always a bargain because all ebooks are just $6 each. In contrast I have bought only 3-4 books from amazon and none of them was below $15.

  12. The authors do have a strong case. This site was exploiting the terms of the lending portion of the contract beyond its intent–essentially it is setting up a lending library without purchasing books to lend. Of course authors know that people lend their books to their friends and family. Setting up a website to connect people for the express purpose of lending e-books to other readers is not the same thing at all. From an author’s/publisher’s perspective, it sounds like a conspiracy to make their content available for free. Maybe it does help get the author’s name out into the the e-verse for potential new customers. Maybe.

  13. I can honestly understand both sides of the issue, as I am an author and an avid reader (I have owned a nook since they were introduced and read primarily on that due to eyesight issues). I would like to think that sharing books expands a person’s knowledge of authors and creates new fans. But I also see how connecting a tremendous pool of strangers to exchange ebooks may also limit sales, and believe it or not, the great majority of authors do not get paid well enough to make a living from their royalties alone. A mid-list novelist is probably just scraping by.

    An individual person lending to a stranger is nowhere akin to a library system. Libraries have far more buying power and can contribute to an author’s success (or failure), but an individual does not exert that same influence. In the end, I think making readers happy is what we need to do–if we could only find a way to do so by making authors happy as well. I write picture books, and I truly believe with that genre, we need to start bundling; sell a hard-copy for home and an ebook for mobility/convenience.

    • Graeme Caldwell

      You’re confusing something here. In the library analogy, it’s the lending site that is the library, not the individual lender. The site does drive interest in an author’s work. If I come across an author on a book lending site, borrow their book, and enjoy it, I’m very likely to buy other books by the same author, subscribe to their twitter and blogs so they have more marketing opportunities with me, etc.

      Sharing and lending are a form of content marketing.

      A mid-list novelist who is just scraping by is not going to become wealthy by eradicating all sharing of their work. Most people who actually “pirate” a work, weren’t going to buy it anyway, so there is no sale lost there. And the people who are lending their books are helping to market an author’s work. One person turned on to your body of work by a loan is worth more than the potential lost sale of one copy.

      Of course, this only makes sense to an author confident of the quality of their work. Authors who prefer other marketing methods, because they know that they have a better chance of selling “before” anyone has seen the quality of their creation, frankly, deserve to fail.

      Authors are just going to have to adjust to the new world.

  14. John C Abell

    Until digital books can’t be reproduced this won’t be settled. In the meantime, we’re arguing around the fringes: authors have no say when I give or lend a paper book, or when I donate it to Goodwill for sale or to a hospital for patients to read. That’s because I possess one copy, which cannot (as a practical matter) be reproduced — I can distribute it exactly once, and future owners are subject to the same limitation. When we put the digital bogeyman to rest, this fragmentation and confusion will disappear.

  15. We wouldn’t want strangers to borrow books from each other. That would be just wrong. I remember when authors had those famous riots against libraries. Oh, wait. That never happened.

  16. M. RUSSELL

    The authors are missing the big picture. My girl friend and I exchanged hard back books. I found new authors I would not have read or purchase as future ebooks otherwise. Reading borrowed ebooks has expanded my list of authors.

    For those authors who choose not to have their books as ebooks – shame on you. There are people who have allergies to dust and can not have hard back copies. I am one. I love to read and thanks to ebooks; I can continue. I miss some of my favorite authors because they choose not to ebook.

    • Shame on an author who does not provide an e-book? So you have never ever read a hard copy of a book until Blessed Amazon came along and gave you the Miracle of the Kindle? This is a highly suspect post.

  17. Why are we still going along with this charade? Something that can be instantly and perfectly copied cannot, by definition, be “loaned”, any more than it can be “bought” or “sold”. I think we need to break out of this linguistic prison by unilaterally using more appropriate terminology, such as “counterfeit” and “license”. This would be a very first step in ending the mind control exercised by big content.

  18. so, As Mario Vargas Llosa stated about couple of years ago that he severely opposes Bill Gate’s intention to finish the use of paper which is going to hurt the Writers and the Authors very badly, Llosa was 100% right

    • Margo Gibbs

      As an author about to enter the ebook publishing world I am thrilled at the possibility this offers. I no longer have to accept the limitations that publishers impose and celebrate and embrace the freedom that the digital age presents.

  19. Dev Bhatia

    I’m sorry, but books and music are not the same. When you hear a song, if you like it, you want to hear it again. When you read a book, you don’t read it again every day, or every week. I loved “Crime and Punishment,” but I haven’t read it in 20 years.

    The authors have a point, and your piece makes it sound as if they are just a bunch of know-nothings. They’re not thrilled about giving away free books. Arguing that sharing is something that friends should do, but not strangers, is completely sound. Furthermore, I’m sure the authors don’t like the sharing feature of Amazon to begin with. It’s something they have to put up with in exchange for the distribution, not something they have to like.

    • Karen Kazaryan

      I’m sorry but that’s a bullshit. First of all Crime and Punishment are in public domain anyway, and it’s don’t think that there is a lot of people who can claim that this book are they favorite.

      But readers do reread they favorite books, and quite often, at least once a year.

      Also you know, there is place where you can get all sorts of books for free. It’s called library. How is kindle lending is different?

    • David Thomas

      No, KK, what Mr. Bhatia wrote is not bullshit. You can replace Dostoyevsky with a contemporary, living author’s work and the point he makes is still true — most books are read once. Sure a lot get re-read, but that’s not the point.

      Furthermore, there is indeed a palpable lack of empathy for authors — not just in this article — regarding the piracy issue. Most authors are pretty much on their own trying to figure out what is going on while the market place for written work is in such a turbulent transition period. That same lack of empathy was and remains in place for the creators of recorded music — ire was levied at the “industry” but little concern is ever given to artist. The message from digital consumers is often couched in oblique terms such as “get with it” and “it” is frequently a wide cover for “I get the latest whatever I want without paying for it,” and, “if I own it I can do whatever I want with it.” That level of arrogant reasoning is enough to make any legitimate copyright holder nervous.

      • Quite a few of the books I own were borrowed first, then later purchased. The reasons have varied: I wanted the convenience of having it at hand for re-reading or for reference; it was something I wanted to be able to highlight and/or make notes in; I thought of a friend or family member who would likewise enjoy the item and purchased a copy to as a gift. (Sometimes this has generated two sales, one for the other and one for myself as well. ) In any case, many books in my personal library would probably not be there had I not been able to explore them without first. Too many times, I have bought a book after browsing it in the store, only to have it disappoint on closer reading. This is one person’s experience, but I suspect I’m not alone.

      • rowenacherry

        I agree with Mr. Bhatia. When strangers trade “loans” they are not recommending a book they have loved to a friend in order to share an emotion. They are bartering, which ought to be a taxable transaction. They are supplying a (legal) copy of an e-book to someone who knows about it and wants it and would possibly have purchased it.

        What some commentators miss is the business behind these lending sites. EBookFling for instance, openly suggests that subscribers should download free Amazon reads for the explicit purpose of later being able to trade that free read for something they really and truly want to read via a lending site.

        Proof, snagged from an EBookFling newsletter “Even if it’s not your cup of tea, you can add it to your eBookFling library and fling it to all those fools who missed out on today’s opportunity. We told you we love you.”

        That is TRADE. Moreover, in many cases, the original copy being “loaned” was not purchased, either.

    • As an author I’m with you on that one. I don’t mind someone who says to their friend I love this book here, read it, because it is likely that the person if they like it too will buy my books. Basicly ‘giving’ books away to strangers no matter if you call it ‘lending’ is something to be upset about. Authors spend months, sometimes years writing a book and only get a few dollars from every sale so of course we don’t want to lose those few rewards we get. And Dev is right, we are not thrilled with the lending feature on Amazon but in order to distribute our books there we have to sign up for it. This doesn’t mean we want everyone to share our books too.

  20. Interesting article. I can see the author’s point of view and at first might have sided with those disgruntled authors. When I thought about it though, it is no different than purchasing a paper copy of a book and loaning it to someone. It is the same principle, and something that I feel is beneficial. It ultimately gets the author’s name a wider circulation, which is what they should want.