Fearmongering: Kindle Lending Feature Will Lead To 'Lost' Book Sales?

from the and-burn-down-the-libraries dept

We've already pointed out how Amazon's new "lending" feature for Kindle ebooks is extremely limited, in such a way that it's barely useful, but already we're seeing fearmongering about how that feature is going to create "lost" book sales. Glyn Moody points us to an article at The Next Web, which discusses how some folks have formed a "lending club" on Facebook, so that they can find a larger pool of people to lend books to and from. And, the article's author warns, this inevitably means "lost" book sales:
Whether Amazon anticipated users organising themselves into a lending club or not, we're not sure but it's likely to result in many lost sales. After all, most books can be comfortably read in 14 days. If all you need to do to get hold of Kindle books is to request a loan from a stranger online, how many will you actually bother to buy?
The article goes on to ask: "can Amazon really do anything to stop this growing?" and wonders if publishers will kill off this feature entirely.

Let's try rewriting that paragraph in a manner that highlights the ridiculousness of the argument:
Whether library organizers anticipated users taking out books or not, we're not sure but it's likely to result in many lost sales. After all, most books can be comfortably read in 14 days. If all you need to do to get a hold of books is to go to the library and take one out, how many will actually bother to buy?
And yet, libraries did not kill book sales. At all. Separately, one of the reasons why I still haven't joined the ebook parade is that I like being able to actually lend out books to others. So, by the argument above, it's the DRM feature on ebooks today that has meant "lost sales." So perhaps we should just get rid of that? Limiting the usefulness of ebooks with crazy restrictions makes them a lot less valuable, meaning decreased sales. Ignoring that and thinking that only this sort of extremely limited lending will somehow harm ebook sales is pure fearmongering and is based on very little evidence.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Pixelation, Jan 3rd, 2011 @ 1:55pm

    My girlfriend (yes, I read Techdirt AND have a girlfriend) Received a Kindle as a gift a few months back. She loves it. Enough that she's been hesitant to let me use it. She just received another one for Christmas. Rather than return it, we worked out a deal where I get the new one. The biggest selling point for me is that we can share books. Take that away and the value to me plummets. Decreased books sales or decreased Kindle sales seems to be the equation from here.
    I hope I won't need to hack the Kindle too...

     

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    •  
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      el_segfaulto (profile), Jan 3rd, 2011 @ 3:04pm

      Re:

      Jailbreaking the Kindle is actually rather easy. I did it on my 3rd gen in a matter of minutes. There isn't a whole lot you can do with it, but it's still geek points.

       

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      Jon, Jan 3rd, 2011 @ 4:28pm

      Re: lost sales?

      Wow, think of all the sales Amazon would gain if we closed the libraries!

       

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      Not an electronic Rodent, Jan 4th, 2011 @ 2:44am

      Re:

      I hope I won't need to hack the Kindle too...
      Turns out that .azw format is just .mobi in disguise with buckets of DRM and the Kindle reads .mobi just fine.
      Go get any book you like - try Project Gutenberg and go get something to translate it and just copy it via USB - works a treat.

      Of course the same thing would also work with any ebook obtained from sources, shall we say, less reputable than Gutenberg (of which there are many), so it kinda makes the whole DRM thing look faintly ridiculous. Given the ease, I'm not sure how making a legitimately bought book far less attractive than a less legitimate one works as a good business model no matter how much (imaginary) money is "lost" on sales.

       

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        PaulT (profile), Jan 4th, 2011 @ 3:28am

        Re: Re:

        "it kinda makes the whole DRM thing look faintly ridiculous"

        The rule of thumb when dealing with DRM, and mentioned here many times - it only affects legitimate customers. Those who "pirate" will never be affected by DRM so long as one unprotected copy exists, and unbreakable DRM has no yet been invented (and almost certainly never will).

         

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          Not an electronic Rodent, Jan 4th, 2011 @ 4:13am

          Re: Re: Re:

          it only affects legitimate customers
          Yeah I know. But despite being a pessimist and a cynic I have occasional flashes of gratuitous and unfounded optimism and I was hoping that with so many negative examples to show how badly it works the "new" industy of (ubiquitous scale) ebooks might try something different. *sigh* Back to the old drawing board.

           

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            PaulT (profile), Jan 4th, 2011 @ 4:35am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Yeah, I know, I was hoping the same thing about movie downloads after music DRM stunted and fragmented the early market. I also hoped the same about region coding on Blu Rays after DVD coding split the physical movie market, and CSS caused so many issues with people adopting Linux. Also about PC game DRM after so many gamers jumped ship to consoles due to DRM.

            I've given up hope for sensible options from these people.

             

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              Christopher (profile), Jan 4th, 2011 @ 8:28pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              You aren't going to get sensible options from people who assume that every person lending a game to another person = a lost sale.
              You have to tell them "No, that does NOT equal a lost sale, no more than someone allowing their brother/sister to play their copy of a game does!" and slap them down with the law, by ILLEGALIZING DRM PERIOD!

               

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 3rd, 2011 @ 2:00pm

    wow, reason 10000000000000001 to pirate something.

     

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      Daemon_ZOGG (profile), Jan 3rd, 2011 @ 3:03pm

      Re: "wow, reason 10000000000000001 to pirate something." (Anon..Coward #2)

      I second the motion! I prefer eBooks that don't come with "any" restrictions. ;D

       

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        PaulT (profile), Jan 4th, 2011 @ 12:04am

        Re: Re: "wow, reason 10000000000000001 to pirate something." (Anon..Coward #2)

        Restrictions/DRM are the major reason I've never even looked at buying a Kindle or similar device.

        Of course, I mainly buy second hand books right now (new paperbacks are way too expensive), so I'm probably a "pirate" according to these people anyway...

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 3rd, 2011 @ 2:03pm

    the price is the problem

    The $10 -$15 price tag is what leads to lost book sales...

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jan 3rd, 2011 @ 2:23pm

      Re: the price is the problem

      and here i thought it's me uploading all the ebooks i can get my digital hands on.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Jan 4th, 2011 @ 4:29am

      Re: the price is the problem

      you mean i shouldn't pay $16 for an ebook of Dune when i only paid $10 for the hardcover??? i am so confused!

       

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        PaulT (profile), Jan 4th, 2011 @ 4:41am

        Re: Re: the price is the problem

        Heh, I held off reading Dune for years after I first became interested in it, because it was far too expensive. I know there's high costs involved with paper production, but 9 for paperback when the author's been dead for nearly 25 years? I waited till I could find a second hand copy. If could have gotten an unencumbered ebook for 3-4? Instant sale.

         

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    Krimson Gray, Jan 3rd, 2011 @ 2:05pm

    Home Taping is Killing Music...

    ...and in other news the sky is falling.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 3rd, 2011 @ 2:47pm

    Comparing libraries to digital media is a very poor comparison for any number of reasons. The key one being volume. The number of public libraries in most cities is low, typically 1 in anything under a metropolis. The number of copies of each book they typically have is, well, 1. Even with perfect timing, that book gets lent out no more than 26 times per year. In all likelihood, it might go out 10 times (if your library has old fashioned cards int he sleeves, you can see that - or ask them to tell you from the computer how many times the book has been lent since they got it). Further, the copies are dispersed in such a way that you cannot get the next available copy in all of the US, just the single copy at your local library.

    The real volume is in books purchased by individuals. Libraries are a few thousand copies, public sales are in the hundreds of thousands. Picture a future where Kindle is pretty much the standard. 10% of the people who buy the book join on of these clubs and make their books available online to strangers. That makes possibly tens of copies made available to anyone else in the group. Everything shifts. Suddenly, you have access to 10,000 potential copies of the book, which are all lent around as many times as they can. You almost always get the book you want right now. On that 14 day schedule, the 10,000 books have 260,000 potential readers in a year.

    The libraries? a couple of thousand books, getting about 10 reads a year... 20,000. Let's be generous and say 26,000 reads a year.

    So the Kindle just magnified the issue by the scale of 10.

    This is a similar issue to why 70s and 80s mix tapes were not a very big issue, but the current level of piracy is. The scale of the copying, the scale of the use is big, that it has to have a negative effect on sales.

    In the end, sharing is something you might do with a close friend once in a while, in the same manner you might pass a book onto a family member months after you finish reading it. The only system as discussed would allow everyone to share with anyone without knowing who they are. The scale is beyond the scope of a share with your friends. It's a wholesale bypassing of the sales network.

    I can see where they would be concerned, and I can see where TD wouldn't understand why.

     

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      jjmsan (profile), Jan 3rd, 2011 @ 3:00pm

      Re:

      You just made up all the numbers in your argument. What's your next step? Stating 'that's all techdirt does?"

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Jan 3rd, 2011 @ 3:18pm

        Re: Re:

        jjmsan, the 2k number is something I ran into a few years ago when it came to library sales of popular books in the US. I checked around and can't find it online, but Google is so jammed with spam these days, it's hard to find many things.

        thing of it as relative numbers. Just look around your own city / town / burg. Look at how many libraries there are. Look at how many people in your town might buy a book over a couple of years. It is actually pretty easy to understand the scale issue. I could be off by an order of magnitude and it could be 100 times worse. The Kindle share thing isn't in widescale function yet, it would be like trying to guess music piracy after downloading the first beta of Napster.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Jan 3rd, 2011 @ 4:26pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          CULTURE HARD!!!

           

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          PaulT (profile), Jan 4th, 2011 @ 12:22am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "the 2k number is something I ran into a few years ago when it came to library sales of popular books in the US"

          ...but of course citing your claims rather than expecting us to just believe your unsubstantiated beliefs is too hard, right?

          Whatever you think of TD's claims and Mike's habit of linking back to his own arguments rather than primary sources on historical stories, at least he does actually cite his sources.

           

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            identicon
            Anonymous Coward, Jan 4th, 2011 @ 5:22am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            I could put up a cat scan of my brain and link to that as the source, and it would be pretty much the same as TD does. I just don't try to claim things as absolute truths when they are just opinion + opinion.

            As for the numbers, just go look yourself. Number of public libraries. How many of them each buy 1 copy of a given book? That is your total books in libraries. How many people would buy a book on a Kindle in the future? That potential number is way larger. Compare the two. See what the effects would be if even 10% of those people shared their kindle books with strangers after they finish reading them. Work it out.

            Come on Paul, you are smart enough to understand this. Why play so stupid?

             

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              PaulT (profile), Jan 4th, 2011 @ 5:36am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              So, that's a "no, I pulled them out of my ass", then?

              Sorry, "I remember reading it once" is not accurate (the human brain is not a completely reliable source), nor is it anything like what TD does when they, you know, link to external sources. Those links might not always be hard data, but at least they're something tangible to work from.

               

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              •  
                identicon
                Anonymous Coward, Jan 4th, 2011 @ 7:32am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                So what you would rather do is have a discussion about methods rather than look at reality?

                No wonder TD does so good, it attracts sheeple. You must be a Republican, your logic matches up perfectly with the Glenn Becks of the world. Don't debate the idea, nit pick on something and avoid actually addressing the situation.

                Carry on!

                 

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                  PaulT (profile), Jan 4th, 2011 @ 7:58am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  I'm "sheeple" because I'm asking you to back up your own claims before discussing the conclusions you're basing on said claims? Weird.

                  Maybe if one of you guys presented a point that wasn't based on hearsay, assumptions and "I saw this number once", then maybe a conversation would be easier. In the meantime, I'm sorry that I like to base my views on reality.

                   

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      identicon
      Pixelation, Jan 3rd, 2011 @ 3:10pm

      Re:

      "I can see where TD wouldn't understand why"

      We must all bow before your obviously superior intellect.

      You haven't considered that there may be increased sales because of the ease of getting ebooks and storing them on the Kindle.

       

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      Dementia (profile), Jan 3rd, 2011 @ 3:39pm

      Re:

      Well, let's see. I live in a small town. One library. I also attend college in a nearby town which has a college library and a couple of public libraries. Let's not forget that the library in my town also belongs to a network of libraries that share their books across most of north western Wisconsin, so I really have access to many more books than you might think. Somehow, despite this access, and my kids, still buy books. I just read about 8 or 9 library books in a series I stumbled across, yet I also own several of those books. Now, how could that be??? Should have been lost sales right?

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Jan 3rd, 2011 @ 3:43pm

      Re:

      Really?

      So movie rentals follow the same rules?

      Or people who watch movies are different from people who read and it is only people who read who would not buy if they could read it elsewhere?

      Maybe the auto industry should freak out too since there is rentals, or maybe tool makers should freak out or every other guy that have to compete with rentals of any kind.

       

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      Ron Rezendes (profile), Jan 3rd, 2011 @ 3:54pm

      One library? Maybe in Kentucky!

      I live in San Diego and the County Library System lists 33 locations and 2 bookmobiles! Please use numbers somewhat reasonable rather than pure speculation.

       

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jan 3rd, 2011 @ 10:52pm

      Re:

      Libraries buy several copies of popular books. They do tend to base the number they buy on their expectation of long-term demand, meaning that indeed a popular book is likely to be unavailable to you for months after it first comes out, but a popular book is likely to be available from your local library well before it comes out in paperback.

      The hardcover/paperback windowing worked well for many years despite (or perhaps because of--in many cases first reading a book from the library might cause someone to go out and buy the whole series in paperback or the latest in hardcover even) public libraries.

      I can't see it working out well for ebooks though.

       

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      Not an electronic Rodent, Jan 4th, 2011 @ 2:31am

      Re:

      This is a similar issue to why 70s and 80s mix tapes were not a very big issue, but the current level of piracy is. The scale of the copying, the scale of the use is big, that it has to have a negative effect on sales.
      All of which is rather beside the point. Why is it that every time something goes online it's a huge disaster that must be stopped at all costs? When does the King Canute act end? The world changes and no amount of wailing will stop it for ever.
      What always seems to get missed including possibly by the companies themselves is that the aim is to make money not ensure that every reader of every book pays you to do so. In your scenario you see it as a problem that 10 times as many people read the book for free? How is that bad if the ebook cost you 1/10000th of the cost of a paper book to produce? 1/10th of the people buying it, even for 1/10th the price of a paper book still gets you more profit than you were getting. And as always you don't factor in the 260,000 people you mentioned buying books they wouldn't ordinarily have bought because the community of like minded people they share with led them to obscure authors they otherwise would never have bothered with.

      Sure some people will only ever read books for free, but why do you care as long as you are making a profit on the deal? Embrace the reality of technology that's not going to go away, deal with it and you get to make more money or at least get to continue making some money. Play King Canute and rail against the tide and you lose it ultimately.

       

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      PaulT (profile), Jan 4th, 2011 @ 3:23am

      Re:

      "This is a similar issue to why 70s and 80s mix tapes were not a very big issue, but the current level of piracy is. "

      Yeah, right. In hindsight maybe, but nobody told the industry at the time when they were busy crapping their pants, nor the movie industry at the time for that matter. They both tried banning tapes and recorders, launched idiotic propaganda campaigns and refused to release content in many cases.

      But, both industries came through OK in the end, making higher profits in the 90s than they had before. You know how? By instead of cowering in a corner, trying to attack and ban the new technology, they embraced it. They changed their business models to do so (less so with the music people, admittedly). They offered products people wanted that the pirates either couldn't copy, or which added extra value over and above the pirated version.

      That's all that's needed now. They've tried the King Canute act, and it's been exactly as ineffective as it was back then. Maybe it's time for them to try the tactics that let them succeed previously.

       

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    Ed Allen, Jan 3rd, 2011 @ 2:58pm

    Libraries would have had to fight for existence if copyright of today was rule when starting

    Benjamin Franklin addressed this in 1731 by founding the first public library in the colonies.

    Today we would have folks trying to label members of the "junto" as criminals in hopes of getting their activities outlawed

    I am afraid today's courts might well go along with it. Congress would, certainly.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 3rd, 2011 @ 3:03pm

    1. Goto library and check out book you want to read.
    2. Download copy of book from nefarious underworld place of your choice to a device capable of reading it.
    3. Delete book and return library book.

     

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    Mary McDonald (profile), Jan 3rd, 2011 @ 3:11pm

    As an indie author, I was worried at first. To get the 70% royalty, we have to participate in the lending feature. However, I don't consider it lost sales so much as expanding my reader base. I even 'liked' the above FB page yesterday and spread the word to my FB friends and posted it on my book's FB page. Any time someone requests my book, or is eager to borrow it, I'll consider that a good thing.

     

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    Mike, Jan 3rd, 2011 @ 3:42pm

    I take it you've never used a library before. They have a finite number of books. It takes time to order books in from other libraries. Often if they are popular, there are waiting lists. And you cannot copy the book for yourself when you are done "sharing".

    I don't see how that's at all the same thing.

     

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      Ron Rezendes (profile), Jan 3rd, 2011 @ 4:06pm

      Re:

      "They have a finite number of books."

      Really? Guess what? There are a finite number of books available on the planet too!

      Yet, book sales continue, libraries get used, people even get their names on waiting lists for books - voluntarily!

      I'm not sure you're really making a point at all here unless your point is that libraries aren't all that convenient for you, personally.

      If you want a copy of the book to keep - GO BUY ONE! If you just want to read it, borrow it from a friend in the cloud. You may decide you like a book so much you end up buying it after you read it the first time.

       

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      ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Jan 3rd, 2011 @ 6:04pm

      Re:

      I'm increasingly using non-DRMed stuff so I can pass it off easily to my GF when I'm done with it (and decided she'd like it,) just like I would do with a physical copy.

      Guess how much money an artist (or more likely, a corporation) usually makes on that.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 3rd, 2011 @ 6:19pm

    http://librivox.org/

    People should go there and donate their time to translate and do voice overs of thousands of books that are free and probably will give you a lifetime of good entertainment.

    Now that is real entertainment isn't?

    No DRM, no restrictions and no one threatening you or calling you names, why would people give any money to crooks that want to slave us and don't respect us?

     

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    Not an electronic Rodent, Jan 4th, 2011 @ 5:31am

    Compare the two. See what the effects would be if even 10% of those people shared their kindle books with strangers after they finish reading them.
    .....He says crefully ignoring the real question of whether there is still good money if not more money to be made with more people reading books for free.....

     

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    Chris-Mouse (profile), Jan 4th, 2011 @ 6:06am

    Killing the Goose...

    Publishers seem to want to turn recreational reading into an activity that will require payment up front every time you want to read a book. They may even be successful at doing so. If they are successful, they will regret it.
    People learn to enjoy reading by doing a lot of reading for entertainment. This requires access to a lot of books. currently, people get these books by borrowing from the school library, borrowing from the local library, borrowing from parents, etc. Nobody pays up front for all the books they read while learning to enjoy reading.
    Those `freeloaders` then become the next generation of book buyers. If the publishing industry eliminates all the `freeloaders`, they will also find themselves without customers one generation later. This would be a huge loss, not just to the publishers who would go out of business, but also to authors who lose a distribution channel, readers who lose a source of entertainment, and even other industries, like the movie industry that would lose a ready-made source of popular stories.

     

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    DH's Love Child (profile), Jan 4th, 2011 @ 6:20am

    Something I didn't see mentioned...

    So, the Nook has had this feature pretty much since its inception but nobody screamed about lost sales from that.

    To be fair, I am a happy Kindle owner. That being said, I HATE DRM with a passion, so I backup all of my books after stripping the DRM from them.

    I don't know if I will take advantage of the lending feature on the Kindle or not, but I will certainly watch to see how it plays out.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 4th, 2011 @ 7:02am

    They just want there to be 50 different standards / formats for Books, Music and Movies on digital devices so they can charge for each format. Pretty soon you won't be able to copy your purchased media from one device to another. I'll buy my real book and read wherever the hell I want.

     

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    Erin B., Jan 4th, 2011 @ 9:49am

    I get the fear -- the publishing industry isn't really in great shape, and there are costs associated with finding and managing talent, editing works, marketing works &c &c &c. I do understand. But a quick perusal through my last 20 Amazon buys indicate that every single media item (17 items, for the record) was something that was either originally something I borrowed or was bought because it was related to something I borrowed. Every single item. Obviously "give it away and pray" isn't the best or only course of action, but pretending that every single instance of borrowing is a lost sale is idiotic.

     

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      Christopher (profile), Jan 4th, 2011 @ 8:33pm

      Re:

      The publishing industry isn't in great shape because the times are changing and the industry is becoming..... well, obsolete!

      People can publish their OWN books today very easily, therefore the 'publishing industry' isn't really needed anymore.

       

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    jason, Jan 16th, 2011 @ 6:51am

    Just a quick comment

    Lending is lending - if that is illegal then screw the law- honestly.

    Fear of a digital planet.

    check out the source code of a program called 'cp' its totally illegal - check source for 'mv' as legal alternative.
    bits may not be replicated in sequence without destroying the original bits within a 10 second period

     

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