Amazon’s Best Books list spotlights Prime lending problem

Amazon's pick for best book of the year, The Art of Fielding, one of 98 books in its Top 100 not eligible for free borrowing by Amazon Prime members.

Amazon.com is out today with its list of the Best Books of 2011, its editors’ picks of the top 100 titles of the year. This is less than a week after the company rolled out its new Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, allowing Amazon Prime subscribers to borrow one book a month.

So how many of the top 100 books of the year are eligible for borrowing via Amazon Prime? By my count, a whopping two.

After sifting through the entire list, the books “What Is It Like To Go To War,” published by Atlantic Monthly Press and “Carry Yourself Back to Me” from Amazon Publishing’s AmazonEncore imprint were the only two Prime-eligible Kindle books I could find in the top 100.

Of course, we knew that Amazon was at a disadvantage in rolling out the Kindle lending library. The top six book publishers have declined to take part in the program, limiting the quantity of Kindle books eligible for Prime lending to a little more than 5,000 titles. Amazon says Prime-eligible titles include more than 100 current and former New York Times bestsellers.

However, the dearth of Prime-eligible Kindle books on Amazon’s own Top 100 list shows that the big book publishers control not just the vast majority of titles but also most of the best new titles.

The Seattle company is trying to give itself leverage and flexibility by launching its own publishing imprints and signing high-profile authors. The separate Kindle lending program through public libraries offers a larger collection of books — more than 27,000 through the Seattle Public Library, for example.

But for now, at least, this type of thing makes the new Amazon Prime Kindle lending program feel more like a novelty than something hard-core book readers can truly rely on to stay up to speed.