Nov. 3, 2011 at 2:58 PM ET
Today, Amazon announced that Kindle owners with Prime membership would be able to borrow books at no extra cost, every month, with no due dates. It's awesome news (which we already covered), but it suggests a new double-standard, one that will no doubt grow. Simply put, people who own Amazon hardware will get more stuff.
Until now, Amazon has been kind enough to treat e-book customers equally, whether they own a Kindle device, use the free app available on most smartphone and tablet platforms — or both. That's what's awesome about Kindle books, and what makes them so competitive. Despite being locked down with digital rights management, you could "buy them once, and read them anywhere," to borrow Amazon's own phrasing.
When it comes to media, Amazon has been a little more strict. Though it has long allowed people to stream video over a computer or online device, it doesn't have an app for iPhone and iPad. Its streaming music service is Android friendly, though even that app couldn't be described as "lovely."
We knew the Kindle Fire would further concentrate Amazon's video and music offerings — it only makes sense that you'd be able to stream content to that device, and there's no precedent for accessing that content via other mobile devices. But keeping the new lending program from iPhone, iPad and Android users, many of whom happily pay $80 per year for Prime service, is a change in course for Amazon's e-book strategy. Even the public library service launched earlier this year is available to users of the free app.
I've asked Amazon if there was an explanation for the new program's owner limitation, and will let you know if I hear back. It certainly doesn't seem like a technical limitation, as any generation of Kindle is eligible for the program.
In the meantime, I read this as Amazon's way of consolidating its audience, pulling an Apple, and tying hardware, software and services together in an increasingly lucrative fashion, and let's face it, one that won't be too bad for customers either. (The strategy sure as heck didn't hurt Apple.) I just wanted to point it out, alerting people to look for more closure of this nature, and let the people who really oppose closed systems to sound off.
Update: Amazon confirmed to me that this was a move to build Kindle ownership: "We built this service to make owning a Kindle device even more attractive," said a representative.
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