john sclazi

What the Hell Are Used E-books?

What the hell, indeed, are used e-books?

I’ve been reading more than a few articles about Amazon’s latest conquest: a patent they filed for in 2009 and won on January 29 this year that would somehow allow them to sell used e-books. The only problem is that most people don’t seem to know what used e-books are. This is from Publisher’s Weekly:

Amazon’s business model has long been dependent on resellers of used books and other merchandise. But a U.S. patent that Amazon Technologies in Reno, Nev., received last week indicates that the mega-retailer has its sights on digital resale, including used e-books and audio downloads. According to the abstract, Amazon will be able to create a secondary market for used digital objects purchased from an original vendor by a user and stored in a user’s personalized data store.

It’s confusing at best, and far more complicated than I’m going to get in this post right now. I actually e-mailed a good friend in publishing who I thought might know more about this and he seemed a little stunned, too. So I read a few more articles, hoping to find out what used e-books really are, and from what I gather it would be like returning books to your college bookstore at the end of a semester so the bookstore could resell them used again the following semester. I don’t know how authors or publishers fit into this, though.

Users could potentially “sell back” their content at a small loss while DRM ensures they can’t access it again. Other customers could then buy the previously-owned object with the digital rights being easily transferred to them.
Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/amazon-used-e-books-2013-2#ixzz2KMQ2s1vm

I found that to be one of the best explanations of what a used e-book actually is. But I also read something even more interesting in a few places. A lot of companies obtain patents and never do anything with them. In other words, there’s a strong possibility that Amazon wanted this patent because of the significance to all things digital, and they will never do anything with it. This won’t be the first time a company has done something like this, and if this is the case, it’s a rather shrewd move on Amazon’s part. But please, do not quote me on this as fact. I’m only guessing right now. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s never to predict anything in publishing these days.

There’s so much speculation right now, no one knows what to think. Author John Scalzi wrote a post on February 7, expressing his concerns.

In the event that Amazon (or anyone else) gets into the business of selling used eBooks without compensating me (the author) for them, and you decide that you don’t want to buy the book new (i.e., I’m not going to get paid anyway), you know what? I would rather you pirate the eBook than buy it used.

I encourage you to read the rest of the Scalzi post, because he does mention a few positive things about Amazon. And I do not want to take that quote out of context. I also do not want to pilfer too much of his post because it’s short. I respect his opinion. Read the whole thing.

However, I personally wouldn’t recommend pirating anything. I’ve been pirated too many times, plus it’s not legal. And I personally think it’s too soon to predict what Amazon’s going to do with this patent. But if they were to start selling used e-books I would have to think long and hard about that. I’m honestly not sure how I feel because I already have print books being sold on Amazon as used books and I’m not making any money on them. And some of my used print books were being sold for 35.00 and upward (for reasons I cannot understand for anything) and I’m not seeing a dime of that money. They are, indeed, used books.

But that’s always been the nature of print books. People buy them, lend them, pass them around, and resell them anywhere from garage sales to used bookstores. As a reader, I have done this myself more than once. So if this does happen and they do start buying and selling used e-books, I’m not sure it’s the worst thing in the world. We’re always hearing that e-books, though they are not a tangible item, are just as real as print books.

Image from morgulefile.com