So Amazon now has a patent on a technology to sell used ebooks. There’s been a lot of outcry about this, which has me somewhat conflicted. On the one hand, it seems prone to abuse. It seems like it would cheat authors out of money. The author in me does not like this idea.
On the other hand, Me-The-Reader kind of likes the idea of being able to sell off “used” ebooks the way I do used paper books. I’m done with it, I bought it, it’s mine, I should be able to do with it as I please.
Right now, unless I missed some information, all that exists is a patent application for a technology. There seems to be no plan for the implementation of it yet that’s circulating. No one quite knows the details of how it would work, except that it will be Bad for Authors since it means that books can get sold that the author won’t get money for.
My assumption is that there will be a mechanism in place to solve most of the technical issues such as making sure that the copy being sold isn’t still being read by the original owner, etc. Those are not the issues that concern me. The idea that copies are sold that don’t make money for the author are also a little suspect since you can have used paper books and libraries and all that, and those aren’t bad for authors in the same way despite not granting royalties anymore. I’m also ignoring the sticky legalese that will crop up around what is being sold (licensed vs owned), because that’s for smarter minds than mine to figure out.
The things that do cause me concern are the following:
- Locking Into Amazon infrastructure: I love Amazon. I have a Kindle, use Kindle apps, buy non-electronic things from them, etc. Yet if I own a thing I buy from Amazon and want to re-sell it, I don’t have to use Amazon to do so. I suppose it makes some small sense that selling the Kindle books I have would require some input from Amazon to make the transfer of book from my account to someone else’s, and that they’d probably need a Kindle as well. However, if Amazon is taking more than a token cut of the price for administration then I’d be unhappy. They don’t get a cut of the paper book I sell at a garage sale. And what happens if I want to give the book away? Why would I or the recipient have to pay a fee for a “free” book? And if Amazon is getting a seller’s cut why wouldn’t the author get one as well?
- What is “Used”: When dealing with re-selling items, you have to deal with the fact that they are in fact used–in other words, they have had wear and tear on them. While a book can be read many times even as the spine breaks and the pages yellow, there’s no doubt that the condition of a used item factors into its cost. An ebook has no such effects upon it. You can easily strip out the notes you’ve made, the bookmarks you’ve added, and it is fresh and clean as brand new. I’m not trying to argue specifically about the idea that something must have a shelf-life to encourage buying new versions, though there’s a small part of that. It’s just that in this case, a book’s price won’t change based on its condition. Meaning instead of selling my $8 paperback for $1 to my friend, I could sell it just as easily for the same $8 I paid for it because my reading of it produced no evidence upon the (lacking) physical item.
I don’t know that there’s an easy answer to the question. I think that in the increasingly digital media world that selling “used” versions of video games, movies, books, and music will eventually happen because I can’t see that the market would ignore the option forever unless there were laws preventing it. I’m not sure how I feel about that yet.