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Amazon Ebook Membership – a Vulgar Athenæum for the 21st Century?
9/14/2011  •  Comment

AthenæumVulgar [vuhl-ger] adj. -- of, pertaining to, or constituting the ordinary people in a society: the vulgar masses.

Reportedly, Amazon is pursuing the possibility of providing an ebook lending service as part of its Amazon Prime program.  If this program does take off at the current Amazon Prime annual membership fee of $79, it could be a modern version of 19th century athenæum membership (a type of fee-based private library membership).  However, at this price point, the electronic version wouldn’t be restricted to Boston Brahmin types as in the old days.  It would be accessible to many ordinary people.

With the gutting of public libraries’ materials budgets, the wait to borrow a public library ebook copy of a popular title isn’t likely to continue to satisfy users of a medium that, technologically speaking, can provide instant access to content.

If Amazon Kindle can provide both a rental service and the capability to borrow titles from public libraries via Overdrive, they’re in a great position to fill in some of the gaps left by the decimation of public library materials budgets.

This may be fine for those able to spend a minimum of $114 for an ereader plus a $79 / year borrowing fee.  But I’m afraid that this apparent affordability will give budget cutters an excuse to widen the divide between information-haves and information-have-nots.  The less-privileged among public library users will be left with discouragingly long waits for access to books in any format.

Tags: amazon; ebooks; kindle; libraries; membership;