Home Feature Story Swap, Borrow Or Lend E-Books With EBookFling

Swap, Borrow Or Lend E-Books With EBookFling


You’d think the book publishing industry has had enough problems over the past few years. The industry’s total annual revenue fall from around US$40 billion in 2008 to around US$27 billion in 2009, no thanks to a double whammy of declining book sales in a less than vibrant economy, and the fact that it’s still struggling with the new digital economy.

There’s no doubt e-book consumption is on the rise – Forrester indicates that the e-book market size in 2010 was almost US$1 billion, with some 15 million consumers owning e-reading devices. And the market size is likely to triple to around US$2.8 billion by the end of this year as well.

And then consider another possible disruption to the industry: peer-to-peer e-book lending. Not only has Amazon recently enabled book lending for the Kindle, now there’s eBookFling (www.ebookfling.com), a startup that creates a virtual “e-book swap” that facilitates the direct lending of e-books between consumers using the lending features enabled by the Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook.

The idea for eBookFling is quite simple and uses a credit system as currency: users who list their books in the system earn one credit for every five books, and one credit for every each book successfully lent. A lender gets notified whenever someone wants to borrow their book, and has a set time to complete the transaction through Amazon.com or BarnesAndNoble.com with eBookFling verifying the transaction. When the borrower downloads the book (which is available for use for 14 days), one credit is deducted from their account. The question is – will this break the industry, or will the try-before-you-buy system help spur book sales?

Digital Book Swap Meet

“One of the biggest questions any reader has is ‘what to read next?'”, says George Burke, CEO and founder of eBookFling. “Book discovery is extremely important to the publishing industry and one of the recent ways they’ve enabled discovery of new books for readers is through ebook lending… just like the good old days, swapping books with friends — only digital.”

Burke argues that the trouble is that even within friends – or book clubs – the number of books that you can borrow from is still quite limited. And this is where a digital swap like eBookFling comprising of thousands of users come in. “Those who were not willing to risk the expense of trying an author for the first time can use eBookFling to find the book they want to try and request it to be lent.  The author gets a type of exposure that was never possible previously,” Burke adds.

He explains that the intent of lending is to expose a reader to an author they’ve never previously read. In any case, these days publishers also tend to provide a free title (usually  from an author as a promotional tool to gain readers – take Harper Collin’s experiment with Neil Gaiman, for example. “I would think lending would be a less-risky method of promotion,” Burke muses. Burke comes from a background of running BookSwim (www.bookswim.com) , a ‘Netflix for books’ of sorts. BookSwim struggled for some time to figure out a way to translate its physical book rental-by-mail service into a digital e-book model, but fought an uphill battle trying to obtain licensing. When Amazon and Barnes and Noble started to allow book lending, he realized the time was ripe for something like eBookFling.

“(It’s) such an intriguing business model for me because there’s no inventory to purchase; no packages to ship; no expensive warehousing needed – just readers who love to share,” says Burke.

Just Do It

eBookFling is Burke’s third startup since he’s been in college, because he says he’s always “dreaded the concept of a job”. “Little did I know that I’d work way more than those who did hold a ‘job'”, Burke laughs. “I thought I was escaping work.  Turns out I found a labor of love instead.”

He does have a word of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, and that is to follow what sports apparel brand Nike expounds. “Just do it,” Burke declares. “So many times I would have talked myself out of the ridiculous concept of charging to rent books when libraries loan them for free.”

“I’ve had to go with my gut instinct, believing the public does want this, knowing that the controversy would fuel the buzz, and devote my energy to getting the damn thing up and running.”


  1. Fascinating piece – thanks for posting.

    Trouble is, we were used to being able to lend vinyl and cassettes to each other, and to copy them, so when everyone moved to mp3 we did the same with music. Books are even easier to share – for hundreds of years people have been lending them to each other and since photocopying became cheap in 1959 they’ve been copying them too.

    Here’s the reason why I don’t see a future for conventional publishing: if someone downloads a movie illegally, say 2-5GB, Hollywood loses maybe $25. If someone downloads the same amount of data with books in it, they get 1-2,000 books – a loss to the old media industry of perhaps $20 per book x 1000 books = $20,000.

    Then there’s the question of how much value publishers add anyway (disclosure: I am about to have a book published with McGraw Hill). Folk like Seth Godin have given up on the traditional path to publication and are going it alone and so is Fredrik Härén here in Singapore. It reminds me of a deal my company was involved in back in London about 10 years to help Simply Red, the band, set themselves up independent of a record label. They were swiftly followed by many other musicians who realized that they could buy in all the services that a record company (ie publisher) had previously provided to them (often by buying them in anyway).

    IMHO the book industry is doomed, at least in the mid-long term, for the same reason that the traditional business model for movies, TV and music is also stuffed long term. eBookFling sounds like a fine effort to stick a plaster over the cracks it is still sounds too complicated.

    • Hi Hugh,

      Thanks for the great comment and interesting perspective.

      The way I see it is that eBookFling doesn’t even try to paper the cracks – in fact it’s exploiting, in a legal way, an ailing industry still struggling to find its feet. It’s not marketing that will save the industry, it never was – the entire business model has been upended, and until a new model is found the vultures will gather.

      So yes, I agree with your prognosis that the traditional “media” and “publishing” industries are pretty much screwed in the long run.

      – Daniel

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