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Published: Friday, 1/28/2011

EBookFling is Netflix Instant Watch for digital books

LOS ANGELES -- It's no secret that users of Amazon's Kindle and Barnes&Noble's nook digital book readers can "lend" copies of the books they've purchased to friends.

But imagine if your universe of friends consisted of millions of people, not just the five or six people in your book club. The lending library suddenly becomes much more interesting.

That's what EBookFling wants to create. The site, which officially kicked off this week, ultimately will let users borrow books listed by other members -- for free.

Here's how it would work. Users can list any digital book they've purchased. When another member requests to borrow it, EBookFling sends the book owner a message with step-by-step instructions for lending it. Each time the user lends a book, they earn a credit, which can be used to borrow other members' books. Each lending period lasts 14 days.

At the moment, the site is only registering new subscribers and letting them submit the titles they're willing to lend. Users won't be able to start borrowing for a month or so while the site ramps up to a full launch, according to Nick Ruffilo, chief information officer for EBookFling.

For those wondering whether this is legal, Ruffilo said that the service is perfectly legitimate and allowed by the lending policies set by Amazon for the Kindle and Barnes&Noble for the nook. Messages to Barnes&Noble and Amazon were not immediately returned.

"Legally, this is using a feature that already exists," Ruffilo said. "It fits with the terms of use."

Ruffilo admits that book publishers aren't likely to embrace EBookFling with open arms, especially if digital lending leads to a why-buy-when-you-can-borrow attitude as consumers continue to fret about the economy.

"Logically, one could say that publishers can end up losing money," Ruffilo said. "It would be hard to argue with that, because it's not incorrect. But it's also not the whole picture."

Ruffilo argues why publishers should actually welcome his service.

"When you borrow a book written by an author you've never read before, you may become a fan and buy her other books and maybe her future books too," he said. "Books themselves are great marketing. New genres pop up all the time, like steampunk. You may not know what it's about, but once you get a chance to try it, you might be open to buying it. We're providing a discovery and marketing venue."

For now, the New Jersey-based startup doesn't need financial assistance from publishers. The site is backed by BookSwim, a profitable, privately held book rental service that operates much like Netflix. The service lets subscribers borrow physical books via mail for a monthly fee ranging from $23.95 for 3 books checked out at a time to $59.95 for 11 books.

Still, the service needs some cooperation from publishers, which ultimately get to decide whether they enable the lending feature for Amazon and Barnes&Noble. If lending eats into sales, publishers may reduce the lending period or opt out of the feature altogether.



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