Mediabistro’s AppNewser has a report on a new service called “Ownshelf,” at which we looked briefly last December. The idea behind Ownshelf is that it lets you set up your own lending library for e-books you can share with friends. AppNewser calls it a “Dropbox for e-books.”
Of course, the terms of service specify you can’t do this with books that you don’t have permission to share, which limits it pretty much to public-domain and other free titles, making it a pretty toothless “library”. What, exactly, is the benefit of sharing public-domain books through a system like this when you could just drop your friend a link to them on Gutenberg? Even the other free books, like works by Cory Doctorow or Seth Godin, can usually be found somewhere else online—somewhere that doesn’t require the other person to subscribe to yet another Internet service to get them.
And those who use Calibre with the calibre2opds script can make Dropbox their “Dropbox for e-books.” Because the OPDS library can be accessed from any computer with a web browser, those who wish to can share their private library URLs with their friends or family just like they’d share their physical bookshelves. While it’s not strictly legal, nobody will ever know if they’re careful who they share with. (There have been reports Dropbox has been canceling accounts of people who have OPDS libraries in their ‘boxes, but only those stupid enough to post their library link on a public forum where a copyright-violation-seeking robot can crawl it so someone can send a DMCA takedown notice.)
Ownshelf would be a great idea if it offered support for lending more popular titles. But as it is, it just seems like a solution in search of a problem—and the better solution is to get the books from somewhere else.