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As promised back in October, Amazon has just introduced the ability to lend Kindle ebooks, opening up a world of opportunity for Kindle users.

The feature, which is clearly aped from the rival Barnes and Noble Nook e-reader, lets Kindle users lend ebooks for a 14-day period. Obviously, while the book is lent out, the original owner won’t be able to read it. Amazon also says that it’s up to the book publisher or rights holder to determine eligible titles for lending — a limitation shared by the Nook.

I argued previously that the addition of book lending is a big deal for Amazon, as it makes the Kindle an unbeatable competitor against the original Nook. But shortly after I wrote that, Barnes and Noble introduced the Nook Color, a device that straddles the line between ebook reader and Android tablet. I still think Amazon’s third-generation Kindle is a much better choice than the Nook, but the addition of the Nook Color proves that Barnes and Noble isn’t willing to go down without a fight.

Lending Kindle ebooks seems simple enough. You can loan a book via the “Manage Your Kindle” section of your Amazon account settings. Or, even easier, you can just click the “Loan this book” link from the product page of an ebook you’ve already purchased. Amazon gives recipients seven days to claim loaned ebooks. I tested out the process by loaning Suzanne Collins’s popular novel “The Hunger Games” to a friend and everything went smoothly.

Loan recipients can return a book early via their “Manage Your Kindle” interface, and those loaning the books can keep an eye on the status of the loan there as well. Another technicality: Amazon says that loans can only be initiated by US customers at the moment, and international borrowers won’t be able to accept the loan if the ebook isn’t available in their country.

Missing at this point is the ability to loan books directly from Kindle devices or apps, instead of just being limited to loaning via the web. I suspect that will arrive eventually.

Front photo via Mike McCune

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