Beg, Borrow, But Please Don’t Steal: How to Share E-Books at School (and at Home)

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UPDATE: Read the latest instructions for sharing a Kindle book: How to share your Kindle books

How to share e-books among as many readers as possible is a matter of great interest to educators. Right now, there are basically three ways to leverage e-books to increase distribution of titles in schools:

1.  Sharing (books among devices on one account)

2.  Lending and Borrowing (books among all users)

3.  Library Lending (books to patrons of the library)

Sharing E-books among Devices on One Account

When Amazon came out with the Kindle, the company realized that book-buyers would want to be able to load their purchases onto more than one reading device. So the company made it possible for customers to load their purchases onto as many as six devices, in most case, if the devices were registered to the same account. As schools began to implement ereader programs, educators saw the benefit of this policy: if a school purchases six or more Kindle, every book they buy can be distributed to six devices, effectively cutting the cost of an already lower-priced e-book by a factor of six. It is like buying six copies for the price of one. And with a little extra management, this “sharing” of books among devices registered to the same account has worked well. Here is how it works for the three major booksellers:

  • Amazon Kindle: You can download up to six copies of each book to different platforms.
  • Nook/Nook Color: You can download each book within devices on an account, limit six.
  • iBooks: You can share among i-devices registered to the same iTunes account. (More info here…)

But…once you have shared the maximum number of times, sharing e-books stops (at least for Kindle and Nook). This means that once you have assigned the book to the allowed number of devices, those devices “own” those books and they cannot be pulled back into the archive and assigned to other devices. If they could, each book could be downloaded to different devices infinitely, which is clearly not what the publishers want.

Lending E-Books to Someone Not on the Same Account

When the Nook came out, the LendMe feature, which allows anyone to “lend” or share e-books they own to another Nook owner, was unique, but now Amazon has finally matched the feature for Kindle.  Lending an e-book means allowing another reader with the same type of ereader to read a book in your library for two weeks.

But there are rather strict limits to this feature:

  1. You can only lend or share e-books once, period.
  2. You can only lend for a two week period, period.
  3. The book is unavailable to you for the two week lending period, period.
  4. Not every e-book is lendable—publishers decide. Period.

Still, this means that an e-book you purchase behaves just a little bit more like a print copy of a book. Heck, half of the books we lend our friends never come back  at all!  But consult the purchase details about each book you buy to see if it qualifies for lending. Surveys show that only about half of the e-books you can purchase qualify for lending/borrowing.

So how can I find a book to borrow?

A small cottage industry has sprung up in matching lenders with borrowers. Services to link the two over the Internet began when Barnes and Noble introduced the feature over a year ago, and has gained momentum now that Amazon has joined the party. Here are just a few:

You can read a brief description of each of these services (and more) by clicking here.

Library Lending of E-Books

Finally, there is regular old-fashioned library lending of e-books. Most e-book library lending is based on devices that support Adobe Digital Editions software, which manages the digital licenses that allow books to be distributed to different users for a specified lending period.

Any computer can install the free Adobe Digital Editions software and borrow books from a lending organization, like your local public library. Often, a service like Overdrive is used to manage the whole process, which supports placing a hold on books that are currently checked out. (E-book lending, like physical book lending, restricts the use of the book to one reader at a time.)

For schools, finding a reader that supports library lending and borrowing could vastly expand the number of books available to your students. Right now, among the popular readers, the following do support this feature:

  • Nook and Nook Color
  • Sony, all models
  • iPad (if you install the Bluefire Reader)
  • Others, including Android, may be included soon…

So, those are your choices. As I survey the landscape, it seems to me that these strategies offer differing value to educators, so I have ranked them here for your consideration:

  • Lending and Borrowing (books among all users) – value to educators? 4 out of 10
  • Sharing (books among devices on one account)– value to educators? 8 out of 10
  • Library Lending (books to patrons of the library) – value to educators? 9 out of 10

This informationis the subject of a 30-minute webinar, which you can view by clicking here.

  22 comments for “Beg, Borrow, But Please Don’t Steal: How to Share E-Books at School (and at Home)

  1. DD
    November 25, 2014 at 9:48 am

    Someone needs to check out the “Baen” business model. First,they put no drm or other garbage on their books, but rather ENCOUrAGE SHARING of them for a very simple set of reasons:

    1. if I buy a paperback, when I’m done reading I can hand it to a friend,and on and on… Many people may read the same copy. Since ebooks are nearly free to “sell” (cost only bandwidth) it should be the same, so they ENCOURAGE sharing.

    I’ve taken many free books but also bought the ones I REALLY liked just so the author would write more.

    All would be best to change to the Baen model

  2. Mrs Gervais
    November 4, 2014 at 8:19 pm

    I would like to see it possible where a teacher owns physical copies of the book for each student in a class, that the students be able to access a digital version at home.

  3. July 25, 2014 at 4:13 pm

    Thank you for this post, especially the precision of your language about the 6:1 policy. You’re right that you can “assign” (or “deliver”) the same title to six devices. But once you try to deliver it to a 7th, you must either (a) purchase another copy, (b) deregister another Kindle to free up space.

    @AxL: You bring up an excellent point. I’m noticing that more school libraries are moving to Overdrive, which doesn’t seem like it makes financial sense. I also contacted Amazon Whispercast and asked if its service could be used for ebook circulation, and the folks over there said no.

    I’m interested in a classroom library solution, where individual teachers can accumulate used Kindles and distribute them to students. But I haven’t figured out the best way to proceed. Any ideas? Thanks again for this post!

  4. willd
    December 24, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    Jon, great question and the answer is, unfortunately, this is one of the reasons to de-synchronize your Kindles. Your notes and so forth will be overridden if your daughter makes any of her own, not to mention that the “furthest page read” marker will change with whoever opened the book last. If you de-synchronize the Kindles, you can store your annotations locally, just not in the cloud. You can read more here.

  5. Jon
    December 17, 2013 at 3:21 pm

    Sorry if this isn’t the forum for this question. Not sure where to go to find an answer.

    I have ebooks on 6 devices. Our amazon account is essentially a family one. What happens if the same ebook is being read by my daughter at the same time I’m reading it? More, if I bookmark a page, let’s say page 20, I’m up to on my iPad, and she does a different page,s ay 10 on hers, what happens to my bookmark, do I lose it or does hers over ride mine?

    Thanks in anticipation of an answer

  6. willd
    September 22, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    Hi, excellent question. I thought they had rectified the problem with purchasing multiple copies in a single account. You might pose your question to the group at eBook Educators Group for the latest information. -Will

  7. willd
    September 22, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    Hi Mark, I believe that the process you describe is the correct scenario. Used to be it was hard to buy another copy in the same account but I think they fixed that. You might pose your question to the Kindle group at eBook Educators Group and get an updated answer. Cheers! Will

  8. willd
    September 22, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    Thanks for the tip, Walter! I always stayed away from Amazon Prime but now love it. Lots of great stuff comes with it besides two day shipping.

  9. August 9, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    Here’s a great book that’s currently free on Kindle for Amazon Prime members Beyond Birkie Fever. It’s a humorous and inspiring memoir that is currently featured in the Chippewa Valley Book Festival!

  10. June 28, 2012 at 12:21 pm

    Hi. Let’s say that I have 12 Kindles on one Amazon account. After I put a book on six devices, can I purchase another copy on that same account and assign the second copy of the book to the other six devices? Or do I need to put the other six Kindles on another Amazon account? Thank you.

  11. AxL
    June 20, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    So how do others here deal with the “only share to six devices” limitation? We have 20 Fires in our HS Library at the moment, and at the time of purchase the Amazon rep told us that if you want to get more than six you can just purchase it again, i.e. another block of 6 licenses. But it doesn’t actually let you do that.

  12. Maxine Pipkin
    March 13, 2012 at 7:23 pm

    I think if you place a book on six different kindles registered to one user six different people CAN read it but they cannot read it at the exact same time as the pages are synct to the one book.
    Each person would have to remember what page they left off on. However if only one person is using six different devices for whatever reason I believe you can use the synchronization feature which remembers your position in the book. That’s what I read somewhere, so I won’t swear to it.

  13. willd
    March 14, 2011 at 10:25 am

    Yes, Amazon allows you to place a book on six different devices at one time. However, once you have allocated the book to six readers, you cannot place that book on another reader. It is as though you have six tickets and when they are used up, you can’t distribute the book any further.

  14. Marg
    March 7, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    If one can order one copy of a book and place it on six kindles under one account, can they be read seperately or at the same time or is all tied to the one copy? Basically, if on copy is ordered can two people read the same book on two different kindles under the one account?

  15. February 13, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    We would like to move forward in our ebook options for students but the account issues and lending are a real stumbling block. In my experience, reasonable policies and clear expectations are generally followed by educators in my circles. I think DRM-free ebooks would be fantastic to open options, especially in a 1:1 laptop school like mine. Good post and thanks for the summary of lending options.

  16. willd
    February 13, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    Thanks for the clarification and recommendation, Jim! Educators have to consider so many discreet items when deciding on platforms at this point…

  17. February 13, 2011 at 11:46 am

    As far as iBooks goes, not to be a wet blanket, but I think that the statement about sharing with as many iDevices as registered to a single iTunes account only applies to consumer use, not school districts or libraries. Many of us in education incorrectly assumed when Apps first came out that one could buy one app and copy it on any number of devices, which was not the case. Apple has provided schools with a way to buy multiple copies of an app, and updated their policies to cove that, but it does not currently extend to iBooks. See

    For iOS devices today, the best way to use purchased books in schools is to use the Kindle or B&N App until Apple provides clarity and school friendly policies.

  18. willd
    February 10, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    Deb, the book is checked out to your computer running Adobe Digital Editions, so that must be installed on your end. Then you can drag the book onto devices like the Nook or the Sony, which support ADE and book-borrowing.

  19. willd
    February 10, 2011 at 5:27 pm

    Thanks, Emily–that is great news. More reading (and for free!)

  20. February 10, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    Thanks for this post. FYI, Bluefire is no longer needed to read library ebooks on iPad. If the library system you’re borrowing from gets its ebooks through Overdrive, there’s a free Overdrive Media Console app (for iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android, BlackBerry–in their respective app stores) that does the trick. Just came out in late December.

  21. Deb Condley
    February 9, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    Do you have to have special software to manage the check out process?
    Just wondering…
    Deb Condley
    Clark Middle School
    Winchester, KY

  22. Educational Publisher
    February 9, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    This is a little off topic as it’s not Kindle-specific, but I’d like to use this post to ask a question. I hope that’s ok.

    I work for a publisher of books for teachers and administrators. We’re strongly considering selling our eBooks without DRM, but we’re somewhat concerned with how this will be interpreted by our customers. Do you think educators will respect our decision to sell books DRM-free and not share it inappropriately? Your title of this post shines a spotlight on this issue as all we can really do is say “…Please Don’t Steal”.

    If it’s unlikely that enough educators will respect our decision (and in this economic climate I can imagine a “traditionally honorable” educator convincing him or herself that inappropriate sharing in this context is “ok”), it’s hard to see us devoting significant resources to these projects. But at the same time, we’d like to provide our customers with the best reading and learning experience possible.

    I would be interested to hear your and your readers thoughts on this topic. Thank you.

Comments are closed.