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What happened to LendInk? The owner responds. (digitalmediamachine.com)
93 points by sp332 on Aug 9, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 78 comments

Author of the featured blog post here, and a long-time HN member.

I would like to share a few observations about the nature of the independent author community, based on the Internet discussions that preceded the suspension of LendInk (see https://www.facebook.com/pages/LendInk/124974504234948 and check out the threads and comments from August 2), as well as my own experience as an ebook author:

* Even though indie authors are using the Kindle platform to publish their work, many are not aware of the "fine print" governing their participation in the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) program or KDP Select.

* Technology skills are very focused in this community. Authors are generally very good at using Internet discussion boards and other Web channels to promote their work. But not everyone understands the differences between reading devices (which are significant) or how secondary software features work.

* On the production side, many authors are turning to services like Smashwords or freelancers to handle the conversion of Word files to the formats that Amazon/Sony/BN/etc. accept for upload.

* There is a lot of sensitivity around price (see the comment thread starting here: http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2012/03/barry-joe-scott-turow.... ) and free giveaways (like KDP Select, http://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/KDPSelect ). This translates to intense worry about whether authors are losing out or getting cheated in some way.

In my opinion, the factors listed above as well as the general reluctance of people to read through EULAs and long FAQs disassociates authors from the processes and policies that govern how their work is distributed, marketed, and sold. This, in turn, can lead to serious misunderstandings.

I am not excusing the witch hunt that took place, but am simply trying to identify the factors that led to LendInk being suspended.

I've been reading the comments on Twitter and Facebook by book authors that wanted this site shut down. What's surprising is that even if they're convinced the site wasn't hosting their books and was sending people to Amazon, they're still against it -- they feel they agreed to allow people to lend their ebooks to friends and family, but not to people they met through a lending club website.

> they feel they agreed to allow people to lend their ebooks to friends and family, but not to people they met through a lending club website.

They're probably just going by what they feel is 'normal' with "real books", which isn't an entirely unfair starting point.

Spirit vs. letter.

It's no surprise this sort of thing would pop up. It's not unlike the problems that arise due to things like car sharing and airbnb, when insurance companies and landlords get involved.

Insurance companies are probably willing to let it slide if you let someone else who's insured drive your car, and landlords generally allow you to have guests. But lending your car to complete strangers, for money, and letting complete strangers stay at your apartment, essentially short-term sublets, are not really what they are prepared to tolerate, at least not without altering the terms and rates they charge for coverage or rent.

Insurance companies are probably willing to let it slide if you let someone else who's insured drive your car

Not just probably: I called my insurance to put someone on my insurance, and the customer service rep grilled me about how often they would use it and for what purpose ("Are they using it to commute to work?"), and then strongly recommended I not buy any additional coverage, stating that my existing coverage covered them as well, no problem.

> Insurance companies are probably willing to let it slide if you let someone else who's insured drive your car

In the UK insurance companies will go out of their way to deny claims.

Probably makes sense, since it's relatively easier for the car to be spirited off to mainland Europe and beyond.

That's not the case. The difference in driving laws (right vs left lane) makes it fairly difficult to move cars between GB and mainland Europe, because cars have to be physically modified.

Insurance companies are just out to make as much money as possible; in Europe their life is hard because they don't enjoy the ridiculous margins from crazy markets like US healthcare, they have to obey stricter regulation, and suffer from heavy rates of fraud in many countries.

Eh? It's easy to move cars between GB and Europe, because there are car-carrying Chunnel trains and ferries that help you do so.

EBay Germany has plenty of RHD cars listed from German sellers.

And what side the steering is on doesn't really matter if you're just going to chop it up for parts.

Yes, but this is not comparable to cars being "spirited off" across the continent, which don't need to be split up or modified: I can move a car from Prague to Paris and get full whack for it. This is not the case for the UK market, which enjoys a little bit of a barrier compared to the rest of the EU. Proof of this is that the secondhand market is still very much alive, because car prices are higher than elsewhere, since there is less pressure to align to cross-European prices. That is not the case in, say, France or Italy.

Real books are often donated to libraries and dozens or hundreds of people read the same copies. I don't see how is this community different.

In the UK at least, public libraries have to pay a small amount each time they lend out a book, not just buy the book and do what they want with it.

> I don't see how is this community different.


Yes, really.

You are wasting our time then because you are not thinking about it very hard:

* Libraries are physical spaces linked to one geographical community.

* Libraries have a limited number of physical copies to lend out.

* To read the books in the library, you have to physically go there, check it out, and take it home (or read it there).

Compare and contrast with a web site linking potential lenders/borrowers:

* Geography is not much of a limit.

* Ebook copies (limiting the discussion to Kindle) are managed by Amazon, but are only scarce artificially - in their 'natural' form, ebooks are not a scarce resource.

* Clicking on a web site to get a book is far, far easier, quicker and more convenient than going to a library.

That's just off the top of my head. Presumably, if you were not being willfully obtuse, you could think of a few differences too.

I don't understand how anyone can hope to discuss this stuff in a rational way if they're not going to look at the facts as they are.

Libraries are physical spaces linked to one geographical community.

Which may have many more users than this group had. How many users does a library in NYC serve?

Libraries have a limited number of physical copies to lend out.

These lending systems are much more limited: each copy can only be loaned once. http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=2...

To read the books in the library, you have to physically go there, check it out, and take it home (or read it there).

But back then you also had to physically go to a book store, buy the book and take it home. Borrowing wasn't much more difficult than buying.

> * To read the books in the library, you have to physically go there, check it out, and take it home (or read it there).

I haven't used a library in 15 years that couldn't send you a book, as long as you were a member/library card carrier.

Your differences are largely superficial and orthogonal to the discussion, but I suspect you and I are not going to be able to agree on this point.

> Your differences are largely superficial

About as superficial as the difference between Amazon.com and Smith Family Book Store ( http://www.smithfamilybookstore.com/welcome.html ).

The possibility for a web site to scale up outstrips the wildest dreams of pretty much any librarian who traffics in physical books.

I don't get why people don't see this.

To read the books in the library, you have to physically go there, check it out, and take it home.

My local library does e-book lending online through Overdrive. Almost any e-book format, generous checkout times, etc. You can search tens of thousands of libraries here:


It's different (C2C), but probably would have a similar impact to a library (particularly given the scale we're talking about here—only 15,000 users).

> only 15,000 users

Right now. Is there any kind of hard limit on the number of users a site like that could have?

This has been a source of disagreement with my wife and I over her books. She has been against the site from the moment she found out about it, and despite my investigation to determine that it was 100% legitimate…she still felt it was wrong for LendInk to even be able to make affiliate dollars off the sale of her book, because she felt the presence of her book listing "legitimized" LendInk. (Our books are not lending-enabled.)

I'm not happy about this.

In my experience, this is common among "creative" types.

Their own interpretation of what should be is fact in their minds. The book is to be lent this way, the message of the story is this and the character is to be interpreted this way.

I find that argument hard to accept when this system only lets you loan out a book once ever. If I wanted to show a book to my friends and family it would get loaned far more than that.

Those authors must really hate public libraries then...

No surprise here. I made a site last year that did almost the same thing as LendInk, but I decided to shut it down after Amazon made it very clear that they didn't want me doing that.

From what I understand, there were a half dozen or so other sites that would facilitate ebook lending, and we were all pressured by Amazon similarly. Most of those sites are no longer around.

If you read the article you'd see that this site was not shut down because of Amazon at all.

Yes, I know that Amazon didn't shut them down, a bunch of C&D letters from authors did.

My only point was that Amazon does not support people who run these ebook lending sites, and I don't think there's much of a future in it.

Of course Amazon doesn't support it-- they, like the C&Ding authors, subscribe to the kool-aid of "everyone that was lending these books would have been a sale".

Not only do they support it, they actually pay a higher royalty rate to authors who enable lending (making the book lendable is one of the requirements for the 70% royalty tier). If you make the book an Amazon exclusive, you even get paid something when the book is lent (at least for the period of exclusivity).

Just to be clear, LendInk facilitated lending through Amazon, not a service they were providing. They were simply matching users who had the same reading interest.

I doubt Amazon pressured them into shutting down considering LendInk is sending business their way.

Um, the whole point of LendInk is to not send business their way. Business would imply purchasing. LendInk is a way to avoid purchasing.

LendInk used Amazon's affiliate program. That means (up until Amazon dropped all California affiliates) Amazon would send a percentage of all sales made by that visitor over the next 24 hours to LendInk, as a "thank-you" for sending them traffic.

Sure, but they might have shopped at Amazon anyway. Given Amazon's size, it's likely they'd do so anyway.

True, and of course Amazon takes that into account when they set the terms of the affiliate program.

The difference is a matter of scale. I believe the loaning of books is allowed the same way you could loan out a physical book to a friend, etc. Loaning out a digital book to n people is just not the same. Likewise, libraries, which do loan out physical books to n people (but still less than is possible with a digital loan), pay more for their books for this very reason. If you want to loan out your digital book to n people, then you are going to have to pay a lot more for it (and that is just not part of the current equation).

IIRC, you can only loan a Kindle book exactly once and to one person.

They're being unreasonable and pushing people who cared enough to to jump through that to just buy or pirate it.

Yup, each buyer can only loan each book 1 time. http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=2... And only on books where the author explicitly allows, which makes this takedown even sillier.

Theres a bunch of cases where physical book costs less than the ebook. Most are roughly the same. I assume margins are greater on ebooks as well, no cost to print them, no transportation cost, no shipping cost.

Some guy made a compilation of the author comments he could find on FB.


How can these two clueless authors be informed? Should we form a similar mob and boycott them? Send an explanatory email to each? How?

Seeing as a number of the authors have since deleted FB posts / Tweets related to this, I would assume they know that maybe they were wrong and are trying to distance themselves (rather than do the honorable thing and admit that they were idiots that reveled feeling righteous while in joining in on a witch hunt).

I must admit the biggest thing I took away from this is how disappointed I was at the sheer refusal from some authors to fact check, read up or even visit the site. One apologised on Facebook as they joined the angry mass without understanding the site at all, and now they do they retracted their previous complaint.

EULAs are long unwieldily things, but if you're publishing digitally understand what terms you agreed too before raging out at some slight.

In this case, though, it's quite simple. When you publish a book in the KDP portal (which I'm guessing most of these indie authors did) there's a clearly labeled checkbox: "Enable lending for this book". You don't need to read the EULA. Amazon actually gives you a better deal if you enable lending (70% royalty compared to 30% on outright sales, and if you make the book an Amazon exclusive, you even get paid something when a reader lends the book).

The fact is that authors just don't understand that they are needed less. There is a transformation from printing on dead trees to the freedom that the Internet gives people without copy restrictions. Its cheaper to build a computer network than it is too print a book in many places!

I must admit I'm a big fan of autogenerated novellas. But I'm going to guess you actually mean publishers not authors, which is at the moment still not true for several reasons.

> The fact is that authors just don't understand that they are needed less

Did you perhaps mean to say publisher, rather than author?

I think the reason for that is that this site became something these authors could focus their anger and fear towards. Why look into it and risk having to give up that catharsis?

IMO, catharsis ends once the lawyers get involve and start sending out C&Ds.

Let's see what we can do to address these issues, 1) get a hosting company outside the US, and that is hardened and resilient enough to shrug off frivolous C&D letters. 2) get a PO BOX address, or just use a mail forwarding service outside California so you can make money on the affiliate program again. Just look at the grey area sites (Torrents) to see how it is done.

I see grey area sites that have had years of harsh and aggressive treatment. See, for examples, pirate bay (prison sentences etc); oink (years of legal stuff (http://torrentfreak.com/oink-admin-found-not-guilty-walks-fr...); demonoid shut down; and MegaUpload. (Whether these sites needed legal action is another discussion. I mention them here merely as evidence that it's not as easy as hosting something outside the US.)

Being outside the US does nothing to make a person immune to US laws and law enforcement.

The issue isn't law enforcement though. He wasn't breaking any laws. He was just being harassed. It costs money to defend against a million lawsuits, even if they all get thrown out of court. The site was basically DDoS'd via the legal system. He wasn't even riding a grey area.

Amazon is not stupid. If your business depends on their affiliate program or API, and they don't want you doing whatever it is that you are doing, they will cut you off.

Putting your server outside the US does not put you outside of US law. The legal system takes a pretty dim view of "clever hacks" like that, actually.

But the point is not to put you outside of US law, but to make a harder target for frivolous claims. In this case, the site is legal, but was taken down because the hosting provider did not want to deal with the torrent of unfounded cease and desist letters.

It never would have lasted anyways. The author kept the site running in the hopes that he would eventually be able to collect Amazon affiliate revenue. I imagine that Amazon would have cut the site off very quickly.

It looks like he used to make Amazon affiliate revenue, right up until they cut off all affiliates in California over a sales tax collection dispute.

But I bet Amazon was not aware of what he was doing at the time. Amazon has made it quite clear that they do not support sites such as LendInk.

  > Amazon has made it quite clear
A link would be useful to this discussion, because

  > they do not support sites such as LendInk
does not make it clear whether this just means they don't actively support them, or if it means that they would actively reject them from the affiliate program over it.

Amazon doesn't 'support' blogs on various topics, but many of them may be on the affiliate program.

FWIW, I ran a site last year very similar to LendInk, and was told by Amazon to make changes that they wanted within 48 hours or they would close my Associates account and Product Advertising API access. They do keep the Kindle lending club sites on a tight leash.

It is possible to run a site like this and stay on Amazon's good side, but not easy.

Amazon now allows California affiliates again, due to its tax agreement with the state of California (which in part, required both sides to drop pending legal disputes).

Isn't it just called LendInk? Like, ink that you put on paper?

And yeah, it's a shame. Obviously the authors didn't realize what they agreed to (or at least the implications of that). They should have some action taken against them for false DMCA notices.

Yup, fixed, thanks.

So, am I to understand that these "artists" and "publishers", who seem to not know much about their own terms of business, are the type of people that Kim Dotcom was raided like a major terror suspect on behalf of?

If so, something is insanely wrong here. Very wrong. Sounds very much like this was a very legit business taken down by pure paranoid ignorance.

LendInk was taken down by an ignorant mob of authors (some of the participants have since apologized). The MAFIAA is a calculating, organized group of distributors. I don't think it's the same thing. Either way it's pretty clear that the law, copyright holders' expectations, and users' expectations are nowhere near lining up.

Of course its not exactly the same thing. I was looking at it in a global context. And globally people refer to it as "piracy". I think there has to be parity across the board. If not, every one ends up looking silly. In mass media terms, these subtilties are not noticed, it all gets wrapped up as the same thing. In some ways it weakens the anti piracy arguments when yet again they, as a mass, get it so badly wrong. See where I'm coming from? People will point to this case and say, "see, these idiots are acting irrationally". Tar, brush and all that.

Nobody is pointing out Twitter's and Facebook's role in this affair. Sure, they are just tools (pun intended), but their very nature (short statuses broadcast directly to social network) makes rumors and heresay take on more sinister proportions. Everyone praises the services when they enable Tunisian or Iranian protestors or supporters of the Oatmeal, but there must be thousands of these "minor" witch hunts going on in schools and other small communities such as that of indie writers.

ilamont's top comment sums up the set of circumstances (I would be less generous and call it a "mentality") that led to all these knee-jerk reactions. Heck, it didn't use to be called a "vanity press" for nothin'.

I bet that author that's featured in the article didn't even try and see what's actually happening with LendLink.

I wonder if next they're gonna go for Amazon because they're posting reviews.

There has been a stack of kerfluffles over at goodreads, specifically featuring authors and reviewers.



Is it possible to sue all of those people for defamation? Even if they believe that LendLink is a pirate site, they have a plethora of evidence to the contrary. The law should punish them for attempting to destroy someone over their refusal to either: 1) do 2 seconds of basic research or 2) accept the truth that presents itself to them.

Not unless you can prove they were lying and acting in bad faith. It's not illegal to defame someone based on a falsely held but reasonable belief.

Unless they are in the UK. The libel laws in the UK are pretty crazy where you need to prove that the statements are true.

Strictly speaking I believe that if the defamation is published in the UK (including available on the internet and one person in the UK reading it) then the UK courts might still have a go even where neither the author or the defamed are UK based.

It is however an expensive path to bring a case (and defend one) and damages aren't always massive so it isn't really worthwhile unless you have money to burn scaring people away from telling stories (true or not) about you.

It's worse than that: in the UK, some statements are libel even if they are proven true, simply because the damage to reputation is so great that the truth of the statements is irrelevant if the facts were not public knowledge prior to publication.

For example, that guy who got caught in a Nazi-themed sex dungeon...

How about a falsely held, but unreasonable belief?

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