Thoughts on Building Lendle, a Kindle Book Lending Site

About a month ago, Carolyn (my wife) came up with a really great idea that, at the time, I was pretty sure no one had implemented yet: What if there were a way to connect with other Kindle owners in order to share lendable books? 

I immediately called Jeff Croft — Carolyn and I were arriving at the mall to do some shopping — and within a few hours, we were discussing the early outline of what was to become Lendle. (Beyond Jeff, Kent Croft has been doing a lot of research and Carolyn has been great as a sounding board for new ideas.)

Last week was the beginning of a short beta period. Yesterday, we launched Lendle:

What’s in a name?

As is often the case when starting a new venture, we had more trouble settling on a name than on any technical issues involved with building Lendle. Some of us loved one idea, but couldn’t be sold on another. Others were too obvious and not fun enough. Some sold the process, but were analytical and cold. We also wanted to avoid a direct reference to Amazon’s Kindle for two reasons: 1) To avoid bringing down the wrath and scrutiny of Amazon and 2) to keep the service open to a possible Nook expansion in the future. 

EDIT: Since posting this, Amazon has brought the hammer down on Kindle Lending Club, forcing them to rebrand. They’re now simply booklending.com. 

So, Lendle.

I’m not sure that it was a universally loved choice, but as with iPad, I can’t imagine calling it anything else, now. Also, it was my choice. So there’s that.

Picture this.

We went through several versions of the logo, including an early example I put together as a sort of proof of concept using the name lendlists. (Jeff didn’t like the word lists, so it didn’t last long.) The final version of the logo is actually a pretty direct descendant of that initial concept, in that I wanted something that would call to mind an e-reader device — nothing too specific — with a screen, but which also felt “bookish”.

Jeff was relatively well into the site development process when I decided I wasn’t happy with the logo we’d settled on for Lendle: It lacked visual punch, and the L portion of the logo was too obviously an L. Kind of cheesy. This had the side-effect of making the entire logo taller than I was comfortable with, even though that height called to mind the shape of a book. So, I squished everything down, making the L and bookmark elements into a perfect square, and I also added some subtle texture throughout. 

Nook?

Second only to coming up with a name, we were internally divided about whether or not to include Nook books as a lendable option. This was ultimately settled once we realized that Barnes and Noble simply does not offer an API which would allow developers to easily collect the information necessary to build a useful lending site.

We’d rather have a great Kindle-only site than a mediocre all-inclusive site.

A crowded field.

We discovered pretty quickly that not only were we not the only person to think of this idea, at least one site had beat us to launch: The Kindle Lending Club had been around for a couple months, having started out as a Facebook group. (They’re still listed as a beta site.) To date, there appear to be 3 or 4 other lending services springing up and we realized very quickly that we’d have to differentiate ourselves in several ways:

Lendle. The easiest, fastest, fairest, and best way to lend and borrow Kindle™ books.

  1. Easiest: Some of these other sites lead borrowers to books which simply aren’t lendable, and there’s no way to know this until after you’ve tried to borrow them. None of the other sites list prices (for buying) or the number of lendable books available. We’ve attempted to do everything we can to make the process of lending and borrowing books as easy as possible.
  2. Fastest: Some of our early feedback involved someone getting too many books all at the same time. This person also mentioned having the opposite problem at one of our competitor sites, in that she was often having to wait too long between lends. We want searches to be fast, results to be relevant, and the process of lending to be smooth. We’ll never be able to ensure that every book request will result in a lend, but we hope to get them to you more often, and faster.
  3. Fairest: Someone asked us about this, as he was curious to know how we could claim to be the “fairest” lending site given that all sites are subject to the same set of Amazon lending policies. Our goal is to do everything we can to foster a community which is as happy to lend books as it is to borrow. Lendle won’t work unless everyone is willing to lend. We think we have a good system in place to accomplish this, and we’ll tweak it as necessary. It’s worth mentioning that at least one other site is charging people (as an option) to borrow books.
  4. Best: I don’t think we’d have built Lendle if we didn’t think we could do it better than everyone else. 

Wrapping it up.

Everything else has come pretty quickly. We’ve got a lot of ideas (think social) and a lot of tweaks to nail down (Amazon’s API can be pretty touchy) but the idea we started with is pretty much what we unveiled on launch day. To date, lendlers have added 564 (lendable) books, primarily on word of mouth through Twitter mentions. We’ve lent dozens and — as a note to publishers — sold more books than we’ve lent.

We couldn’t be happier with our early feedback. Most of the criticisms, and there haven’t been many, seem to be focused on something we can’t control: Amazon’s restrictions regarding lending. We expect these to loosen over time.

Our sincere hope is that it quickly becomes clear (to Amazon, to publishers, and to authors) that we’re not only fostering buzz about books by taking advantage of a great lending feature, but we’re also selling books and, eventually, that this realization will lead more publishers to come on board.

We’re keeping our fingers crossed.

Follow @lendleapp on Twitter!

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