Amazon’s bid to run libraries, and how authors might benefit

Report by Tim Dawson.

Public Lending Right – the scheme that pays authors when their books are borrowed from public libraries – has long been a life-saver for impecunious scribblers. Little wonder then that when, earlier this month, the government announced its intention cut the benefit paid per book issue from 6.25 pence to 6.05 pence that authors howled in dismay.

Regrettable as this move is, could there be other ways by which the library model might benefit creators of books? Amazon certainly thinks so.  It is the major shareholder in, which claims to have 1.5m members who pay a monthly subscription to hire dvds by mail to watch screened films.  Of far more interest to authors, however, is the Kindle Owners Lending Library, launched in the USA in November and expected to come to the UK in the near future.

Membership is based on Amazon’s ‘prime member’ scheme, which costs $79 a year in the US and £49 in the UK.  For UK subscribers, the benefits from membership are limited to free-at-the-point-of-sale express delivery. On the other side of the Atlantic, members can ‘borrow’ up to one title a month on their Kindles. Over 75,000 titles are available to borrow, a large number of which have been ‘self-published’ via Kindle Direct Publishing.

A monthly royalty is paid to authors based on the number of times that the book has been ‘borrowed’. Those authors who grant Amazon the exclusive right to publish their works, also benefit from an additional ‘KDP Select’ bonus, which could see a book that was borrowed 1,500 times netting $7,500 in lending royalties alone. In creating this bonus, Amazon is clearly trying to establish itself as the first choice for self-publishers.

Launched in December, the additional fund is already causing at least some authors to celebrate.  Carolyn McCray, for example, writes ‘paranormal romance novels’ and earned $8,250 from the KPD Select Fund in the last month of 2011. Rachel Yu, a 16-year-old author of childrens’ books, earned $6,200.  And they were by no means the only success stories – more than 295,000 KDP select titles were borrowed from Kindle’s library in December, its first full month of operation.

‘Lending’ royalties have averaged around 30% of these authors’ total royalties from Kindle. And those authors who have consented to their works being available for loan as well as for sale appear to have boosted the number of copies sold by an average of 26% compared to those who did not participate in the library scheme.

Hopeful though it is to identify a fresh source of income that should benefit authors, of course, the success of virtual libraries can only be another nail in the coffin of actual libraries. As more and more regular book readers find other means of satisfying their habits and thereby abandon municipal facilities, the case for the latter will inevitably be weakened. Whether Amazon’s royalties prove to be any more dependable than Pubic Lending Right, which the government appear able to vary on a whim, remains to be seen.