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Borrowing a Book on the Kindle Fire: Hit and Miss - and Money

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Our Kindle Fire is sitting on our desk, taunting us. It's daring us to try to muddle through the complicated maze of borrowing a book. We're no push-overs, we're up to the challenge (gulp!).

There are several ways to borrow a book on Kindle -- from the Kindle Owner's Lending Library, from an Kindle book owners exchange, and from a friend. All those choices are managed by Amazon. There's also the public library; that's managed by Overdrive. Let's start with the Kindle Owner's Lending Library. We went to Amazon's home page and searched for Kindle lending library. It gave us a list of 121 books we could buy. We searched for Kindle Library; we got a list of 146 books we could buy.

Tired of typing on our Kindle's littlescreen, we turned to our PC and entered "How do I borrow books from the Amazon Kindle library?" That sent us to the Kindle Owner's Lending Library. We went through the first few steps but got stuck when the the instructions told us to click on a button that wasn't appearing on our Kindle. A help button took us to a page where we could ask for an Amazon support rep to call us. We entered our phone number (twice, because of the Kindle's unresponsive keyboard) and within a few seconds our phone rang. Cool. Uh, kinda. It was a recorded message asking us to stay on the line for a real person.

A very nice woman came on the line after another minute and talked me through the process. After explaining that we weren't seeing the same screens and buttons she was seeing, she said, "Oh, are you actually on your Kindle? (long pause) That makes it more interesting, I can walk you through this on your PC, but on the Kindle, hmmm. Let me see."

It took us 10 minutes and 46 seconds, from the time we said "Hello," and the time we were able to borrow a book. By the way, there is no actual Kindle Owners Lending Library page -- at least not one the representative could help me find. There's a page with a lot of books that are available free of charge to Prime Members (a $79 a year annual fee), mixed in with books that aren't available for lending. The page we found had a total of 26 offerings -- not the thousands and thousands of books Amazon touts.

Prime members can borrow one book a month, a whopping 12 books a year! Woo hoo! Oh, no, wait - that sucks!

Next we went to ebook Exchange. This was much easier to manage than Amazon, but after we registered and selected our book, we saw there was a price tag attached to the form. (Back to that in a second.) After selecting our book, we got an e-mail saying Amazon would handle the whole process once we were approved.

Now, back to that borrowing fee -- it's a suggested donation. Turns out you don't have to actually pay anything if you don't want to, but it's suggested.

We had the creepy feeling that if we worked up a reputation for borrowing and not paying, we might be bumped to the bottom of the requests list. There's an explanation for how lending decisions are made in the case of multiple requests for one book; it doesn't specifically say a history of no payment will impair your ability to borrow, just a reference as to "the member's ranking in the community." There's also a note that says the site's founder has agreed to take a $1 a month salary for the 2011. Ah, 2011 is about to be over, right? What's the salary going to be in 2012?

To be fair, there's a note about 100 percent of the profits from ebook Exchange going to "charities focused on childrens' literacy and fostering a love of reading as an education multiplier." We couldn't help but notice that none of the charities were mentioned or that ebook Exchange isn't a non-profit.

Next we went back to Amazon on our own and lent a book to a friend in the office. It's the same process as ebook Exchange, Amazon takes the book off of our Kindle, adds it to our friend's, and then in 14 days, reverses the process. There's no possibility of losing a book, or somebody not giving it back which we liked. We also liked the fact that no fees, not even suggested ones, were involved.

Finally, we went to the Houston Public Library. Searching the catalog wasn't getting us anywhere so we called up a librarian. She echoed the Amazon representative: "I can't help you with a Kindle, only on a PC." After some scrounging around, she found some generic instructions which she read to us, paying no attention to the fact that they didn't quite match up to what we were seeing on our Kindle's screen. We let her finish reading the form and politely thanked her. Then we jumped on the HPL website and requested to chat with a representative online. He wasn't much more help than the woman was, but -- and this was a big but -- he did e-mail us the instructions which we were able to print out. They weren't exactly helpful, but they gave us a starting point. We finally found some Kindle books -- and they were all checked out. Seems the library, while free, doesn't have quite the selection in Kindle books that they have in hard backs or even paperbacks.

After a trying couple of hours of dead ends and disappointments, our eyes glazed over and we decided to end our quest. In the time we spent online with our Kindle and our PC, we managed to borrow one book and lend one book. Sorry, Kindle, but this is a little too labor intensive for us. We're out of here.

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