Amazon creates its own public library?

In the past, I’ve ruminated on what the effect e-books and their corresponding readers such as the Amazon Kindle will have on the concept of public libraries. The original concept behind libraries was that the great unwashed — the stinking snoring mediocrities that make up most of the human populace — deserve access to the educational possibilities of books. At the time, some probably argued that making books free would destroy the market for books (why buy a book when you can get one for free?), but library proponents correctly argued that the fact that libraries would only have one or two copies of a book would keep the market alive.

However, with digital books there’s theoretically no such limitation. If a library has one digital copy of a book, it effectively has infinite copies. My understanding is that, currently, libraries treat digital copies as physical books e.g. they only lend out one “instance” of a book at a time. Thus the marketplace for books remains relatively unaffected.

I went over to Amazon today and discovered that they are implementing their own library system for Kindle users. Effectively, you can “borrow” books from the Amazon “library.” Will this destroy the market for books? Since it’s Amazon doing it, it’s likely that they’ve put in place the appropriate mechanisms to prevent such destruction. Nonetheless, I think this is a thorny issue and only getting thornier. Once book piracy becomes as prevalent as music piracy, it seems only obvious that the market for books will be substantially affected. And if people can no longer make money writing books, we will no longer have books and the corresponding dissemination of knowledge, and it will be an absolute certainty that civilization will descend into brutal, cannibalistic anarchy. I predict this will happen within five years.

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