Lendink: The Age of Knee-Jerk Vigilance

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

If you are new to the Lendink story, here’s the lowdown. A website that lends out ebooks was shut down by a gaggle of indie writers who thought this was an example of piracy no different than Napster. Really, it’s totally legitimate, as lending ebooks is part of publishing on the Kindle. Books aren’t downloaded, they’re lent for a set period and the writer gets paid. In short, it has nothing in common with Napster.

It’s understandable if writers are a little twitchy about piracy. It also makes sense that people like being attached to a cause. But if you’re participating in the act of shutting down someone’s business and livelihood, you better be absolutely certain you’re in the right and you’re not just running on gut feeling.

The moral of the Lendink story is that self-publishers are proving nay-sayers right. Publishing is hard – people who work in traditional publishing have business degrees. They’ve been to law school. They have masters degrees. You wouldn’t think that you could jump into running a retail store without some business acumen, but that is exactly what self-publishers are doing by becoming self-publishers.

This sounds like a screed against self-publishing, but it’s not. Self-publishing is great for the power it puts in writers’ hands, but with so many individuals suddenly having the power of a corporation – something that has a legal department – then problems like this are going to arise.

I don’t like getting political here because self-publishing caters to all types of political stripes. Whatever your political affiliation, you have to agree that the message in this sign is wrong:

It’s fine if someone doesn’t entirely understand how Medicare works. What’s problematic is when they turn this ignorance into activism. And that’s exactly what’s happened with Lendink. If you’re taking the time to write a protest sign (in this case: a tweet) with misinformation then you’re a greater problem than the thing you’re protesting. I don’t love singling out a writer, but this is the level of discourse about this issue:

LendInk.com, or rather the person behind the website was using and hosting my cover photos. Without permission. This was confirmed to me by their webhost after Amazon sent me their way. They may have been “linked” to Amazon’s book file(clever), but their photos weren’t(not so much).

“Hosting” photos? So every blogger who writes about your book needs permission before posting your book cover? Every time your book cover is splashed somewhere, this is free publicity. Why this would upset someone is beyond frustrating.

This whole story is like burning down a library for lending books. It makes no sense at all. So please, self-publishers, think before you speak. It’s written over and over again that self-publishers need to hire an editor before publishing a book. Once this is done, self-publishers also need to act professionally in every other avenue as well. Many people in the publishing industry think self-publishers are dumb. Don’t prove them right.

  • I was saddened by the lendlink debacle as well, but I am not sure that it was entirely a self-publishing event. On a few of the groups where I saw this play out, it was also traditionally published authors who were getting upset, and in fact were the least likely to listen to those who suggested they were wrong.

    It reminded me of what happened about six months ago when rumors swept around that people were using the Amazon return policy to get books, read them, and then return them, and there was much hue and cry about this being one more terrible policy on the part of Amazon.

    It seems that the lendlink tempest reflects a very strong divide between authors who feel that their ebooks should be priced as high as paper, should never be lent, or given away for free (and in fact often aren’t too happy about ebooks in general) and authors who believe that lower ebook prices, free promotions, lending programs, etc are not only good marketing tools, but that they are good for consumers and therefore good for authors. Traditionally published authors (or authors who are very new to self-publishing) in my experience tend to be found in the first camp.

    While there were certainly lots of self-published authors who jumped on the anti lend link bandwagon, again, from my observation, they were often the first to jump off when they discovered the facts, because most of them had learned the value of promotions and don’t spend a lot of time worrying about piracy or “devaluing” of books.

    M. Louisa Locke,
    Maids of Misfortune and Uneasy Spirits

  • Marva Dasef

    When you publish a book on Kindle, there’s a checkbox to make the book lendable. If you don’t check that box, you don’t want your book to be loaned out.

    If you do check that box, you’re giving permission to somebody who had bought the book to lend it, one time only for 14 days, to a friend.

    The other lending feature is when an author puts their book in the KDP Select program. For the 90 days in which the book is in the program, the book is placed in the Kindle Owner Lending Library for the duration the book is in the program.

    Nowhere in any of that does it say that Lendink can loan an author’s book without the explicit okay from the author, especially if the book was neither marked lendable nor was in the KDP Select program.

    I did make my indie books lendable under the rule that each buyer could loan the book once.

    If you look at another lending site, booklending.com, readers can add books to the loan pile if they’ve purchased a book. Once it is loaned once, then it is no longer lendable.

    Unlike booklending, Lendink just grabbed everybodies’ books to loan out whether or not the publisher made it lendable. I’m not sure about how they did it since I never signed up to borrow.

    Oh, and I didn’t jump on board the complaints in regard to my own indie books, but my publisher (not self-publisher, but a real royalty-paying publisher) never okayed lending, so, of course, they would protest the liberties taken by Lendink.

    I have no idea how lending works on B&N since I couldn’t find the feature anywhere in their bookstore.

    Tell me how anything I said is incorrect. Perhaps my understanding of the Kindle lending program is flawed.

    • Henry Baum

      My understanding is that the books that were not lendable were straight affiliate links to buy the book – and writers had a problem with this b/c they don’t understand how the internet works. The books were not lent out by Lendink, but by the standard process via Amazon.

  • Henry Baum

    I should have linked to this in the post. April Hamilton has been the best about this: http://aprillhamilton.blogspot.com/2012/08/congratulations-you-killed-lendink-and.html

    • Marva Dasef

      Thanks for that info. The thing is, I was going to check out how the process worked both for my self-pubs (lendable) and my publisher books (not lendable). The site made no differentiation between the two. When I clicked to find out what would happen, I was asked to register. At that point (or on the next screen), my browser told me that the page had an expired certificate and I shouldn’t continue unless I knew the site was okay. Well, I didn’t know that, so I had to stop at that point. I knew my publisher was unhappy with all the non-lendable books listed on the site. What else could a reasonable person conclude except that the site was attempting to loan out books they had no right to loan?

      I think that trashing the authors who got a bit peeved for HOW THE SITE APPEARED TO OPERATE (sorry about the yelling) were totally within their rights to complain. It was up to the site manager to make the operation clear. Calling the writers a twitmob is sort of insulting considering that:

      1) Many sites have pirated books
      2) This particular site did not contact the publishers
      3) All books magically appeared on the site whether or not they were lendable

      I think that’s sufficient cause for authors to react quickly before multiple copies of their books were given away without their permission. That impression might have been incorrect, but the site manager had a major #fail in communicating what the site would do.

      If someone walked into your house and started grabbing books off your bookshelf and mumbled something about a lending library, would you be okay with that? I think you’d want just a teensy bit more information AND to not have them taking your books (e.g., listing them on their site) without bothering to ask. I also don’t believe it would be your responsibility to try to find out what that person was doing; it was the “book borrower’s” requirement to get the hell out of your house, then they could send you a note explaining what they were up to.

      • Henry Baum

        The major fail was writers not reading the FAQs, which explained everything.

      • If someone walked into your house and started grabbing books off your bookshelf and mumbled something about a lending library, would you be okay with that? I think you’d want just a teensy bit more information AND to not have them taking your books (e.g., listing them on their site) without bothering to ask. I also don’t believe it would be your responsibility to try to find out what that person was doing; it was the “book borrower’s” requirement to get the hell out of your house, then they could send you a note explaining what they were up to.

        Or more accurately, what if someone walked into a bookstore and asked for a list of titles available to purchase or borrow? Would you throw them out? What if someone copied info from the card catalog at the library and posted that up so it was searchable?

        Lendink didn’t “take” your books anymore than the mysterious person requesting a list of titles cleaned out the bookstore. All information on the books was pulled from Amazon or B&N via an API, including book art. No files were ever hosted at Lendink, so your metaphoric fantasy of someone “grabbing” your books falls apart completely.

        All lending activity went through either Amazon or Barnes & Nobles’ respective sites. If books were not available to lend, Lendink users were given the option to purchase the book.

        And yeah, as Henry points out below, doing a bit of due diligence is YOUR responsibility. If not, every website would replace their landing page with the full wording of the Terms and Conditions and a FAQ right alongside it.

        If you (and several colleagues) are so quick to jump to the OMGPIRATES conclusion, this won’t be the last site that gets buried under a load of misguided enthusiasm. Many other people ran into the same security certificate issue and limited info and still arrived at the correct conclusion. Even after the site went down, people were still able to use tools like Google Cache to pull up the info that the twitmob felt was too much of a hassle to read while the site was still live.

        And try to temper the next overreaction. Christ. The site I write for is ravaged by scrapers that rank higher in Google’s search than the original does and yet you don’t hear us calling on the readers and other bloggers to raze half the internet to the ground and sew it with salt. And we know this activity is ACTUALLY illegitimate.

  • Marva Dasef

    LOL! You have it wrong way round still. Why should the writers have the responsibility of trying to discern the motives of somebody who, by all appearances, is attempting to appropriate the authors’ works?

    This is the big problem here. The onus is not on the authors to figure out whether the site was benign or in their favor.

    If I take your stuff, it’s on me to tell you why without you having to suss it out.

    The #fail was definitely on the site. I wish they had made it clear by asking people if they wanted to participate. In my state, the law says you have to OPT IN to something, not be required to OPT OUT. Any enterprise that requires an opt out is committing a felony.

    Don’t get me wrong. I think the lending site is a great idea. If I was asked (as with booklending.com) whether I wanted to participate, I no doubt would have. As it is, the site owner is reaping the whirlwind.

    • Henry Baum

      What? That’s what FAQs are for. The onus is entirely on authors if the information is available and they were shutting down the site on false pretenses.

      I’m dismayed I even have to write that sentence.

      The principle is the same as Booklending – books end up on the site without author’s permission, so long as it’s lendable on Amazon. Otherwise it says, “Ask the publisher to make this book lendable” with a buy link. It makes no sense that you’re OK with Booklending and not Lendink.

    • Kai

      Are you aware of how the Amazon Product API works? https://affiliate-program.amazon.com/gp/advertising/api/detail/main.html . There a lots of websites that are amazon affiliates and may have your books listed (cover image too!).

      You don’t even have to be an Amazon Affiliate to use the Product API. Lendink was originally an affiliate back in June 2011, but Amazon discontinued the program in California. The site got neglected, but the Product API continued to work.

      Lendink was only trying to help bring people together and let them lend books to each other. If the book wasn’t lendable or if there wasn’t someone willing to wait, they were linking back to Amazon to let people buy the book.

      If you don’t want to participate, don’t put your books on Amazon… simple, right?

    • R

      You Put you book on Amazon for sale. After that how Amazon goes about selling your book you have no control over. Amazon Affiliates(which Lendink was)were set up by Amazon to help sell your books. If you do not like take your book off of Amazon. End of story.

  • I coach authors how to get on TV, and many of my clients are self-published. This puts me solidly behind any movement to make sure self-publishing keeps a good name for quality. Thanks, Edward Smith.

  • Atonus L. Perry

    I am not versed on Lendenk, but I can tell you that I was shocked to find my book on a massive file sharing network

    • R

      Did you read any of the posts above? If you did and you still think your book was on a file sharing network you should not be publishing books.

  • Lovely. Even after posting exactly what the site was (i.e. NOT a filesharing network), you get a comment from someone surprised their work was on “a filesharing network”. I understand that for indie writers especially, every sale counts, but know what you’re talking about before getting upset at it. Am I to assume that if someone lends a physical book to someone else, then the borrower should pay a pro-rated amount to the author? Of course not. And what if there was a place for people to meet other people and borrow each others’ books, since that is all the site was doing. Oh wait, such things do exist – book clubs and LIBRARIES.

    People need to learn about their publishing medium of choice before committing to it or opening their mouths lambasting digital versions of real-life interactions. A shame to see a forward-thinking site, utilizing Kindle’s own loaner feature, having ANY such issues. Ooh well, less exposure for indies, which is a shame 🙁