Why Amazon Should do Kindle Rentals

I was listening to a friend tell me how, for Christmas, he had bought a Kindle for his father. His father was an avid reader, and traveled a lot, which seems like a pretty ideal user for the Kindle. His dad decided that he wasn’t likely to use a Kindle, and chose to return it. The story struck me because this is the same reaction from friends I had tried to get Kindles for, and when I asked people whether they were thinking of getting a Kindle - “I just don’t think I’ll like the feel of the pages,” “I just find it a little annoying to use.”

I initially wasn’t incredibly excited about my Kindle, but after trudging through the first half of the book I was reading on it, I found myself really excited about the Kindle, and really into the fact that I could get all my books on such a tiny machine, and instantly get new ones. I’ve often told people, if they just got through one book, they might find that they actually like the Kindle. A lot of it involves acclimating our expectations of what our reading experience is like.

Which leads me to another idea: Why isn’t Amazon creating 14-day rentals for the Kindle? It seems like a lot of people would be way more willing to rent a Kindle for a while to try it out. Plus, with a time period of 14 days, people could take the machine on vacation. And that’s not a bad proposition - borrow this machine for two weeks, take however many books you want to take and get more instantly when you get there. If I were traveling, even if I didn’t think I would want to use the Kindle regularly, that’s an offer that might be worth considering (Amazon could even subsidize the price of the books bought on rental machines somehow).

Many people who are avid readers may have had the chance to play with a Kindle for a couple minutes, but I know that at least for me, it took reading half a book to get used to the basic features of the Kindle. I’m still figuring out how to make more advanced features work for me. I remember always having to flip back to the page I was reading because I’d press the ‘next page’ button too quickly, a relic of reaching over preemptively to the page’s edge to get ready to flip it. A rental program like this is easy because renters can say to themselves, “I can put up with this machine for a week or two,” and hopefully that would be a gateway to acclimating to using the machine.

In terms of logistics, the biggest problem would be in figuring out if it works economically. The machines could be recirculated throughout all the renters, which means that the rented Kindles could even have specialty software on them that helps Amazon subsidize the price of or deal with ownership issues of these ‘rented’ books.

If Amazon believes in their product, they should be willing to take a bet on the fact that if people get it into their hands, they’ll like it.