Many people tend to lend their friends and family their (paper) books – in this house we have many books that have been read by at least four different people.
However, ebooks are sadly not as flexible. If we look at the Kindle, the situation is as follows:
Firstly, you can register multiple Kindles to the same account: “Practically speaking you’re only going to want to share books with your family (or friends your trust completely). This is because you’ll be sharing an Amazon account, or giving them access to your own, with the ability to buy books. To share books you have to register multiple Kindles to the same Amazon account, up to six devices can be paired to an account at once. You can only pair a Kindle to one account at a time, so it’s probably too much hassle to run multiple accounts and switch back and forth.” In other words, it might be fine for Phyllis and me, but you wouldn’t necessarily want to add on kids who might start ordering books without checking the price, and you definitely wouldn’t want to share your account with your neighbour’s aunt (who might be fairly likely to borrow your paperback crime novel).
Secondly, you can sometimes lend it out once: “Eligible Kindle books can be loaned once for a period of 14 days. The borrower does not need to own a Kindle – Kindle books can also be read using our free Kindle reading applications for PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android devices. Not all books are lendable – it is up to the publisher or rights holder to determine which titles are eligible for lending. The lender will not be able to read the book during the loan period.” If only this applied to all books, and if you could do it five or six times rather than just once, this would be great, but as it stands, it’s a big step backwards compared to paper books.
Also, you can sell your paper book if you don’t want to keep it, but as far as I know, you cannot sell used ebooks on Amazon.
If the average ebook is going to be read by 1.5 reader on average rather than, say, 3.5 for paper books, the price is far too high. The price for a paperback book is perhaps £6, but you can sell it for £1 and share it with 2 friends, so the actual price per reader is only £1.67. If we assume that the ebook will only be read by one other person and cannot be sold afterwards, it should cost about £3.33 to make the cost of reading the same, but most ebooks are much dearer than that.
While we’re on this topic, Danish public libraries have now started lending ebooks. As far as I can tell, it’s free for the library users, while it’ll cost the libraries DKK 18.50 (£2.18) every time somebody borrows a book. I’m not quite sure how it works in practice – will the ebook be automatically deleted from your Kindle after a fortnight?