Books and Publishing in the Digital Age
A market for used digital ebooks may soon exist thanks to Amazon’s recently approved patent. The patent could realistically allow for Amazon to sell “used” ebooks, applications, music, videos, and other digital objects in a digital secondary market. The concept is that an owner of an ebook would use the market to sell the rights of an ebook to a new buyer and once the transaction was completed, the seller would no longer have access to the ebook.
At a secondhand bookstore, used books will likely have frayed covers, bent spines, highlighted sentences, margins filled with written notes, and dog-eared pages that show the remnants of a previous owner. Prices can be set according to how worn the book is because the idea is that a new buyer would prefer to have a copy that looks almost as new as an original copy. When it comes to digital files, each copy is an exact replica of the original. Ebooks do not carry a previous owner’s personal touches that would make the product depreciate in value.
As astutely noted by Wohlsen in “Amazon Wants to Get Into the Used E-Book Business – Or Bury It,” Amazon would be competing with itself by selling used ebooks and other digital objects at a value that undercuts the prices of their new ebooks. When ebooks can be transferred in mint condition, what would motivate a user to buy a new ebook when they can have the same “used” product at a lower price? The number of readers who rush to buy a new copy as soon as it is out might decrease when waiting means obtaining the used ebook at a lower price.
Several issues will need to be addressed before used ebooks are sold on Amazon. Property rights and copyrights should be clarified so that new owners can retain all of the rights to their used ebooks. Compensation for publishers and/or authors will needs to be agreed upon when figuring out to handle the commission of re-sales. The threat of piracy looms over desired digital objects. The issues will be among those that will certainly create financial and legal obstacles.
In “Used Ebooks, the Ridiculous Idea That Could Destroy Also the Publishing Industry,” Merchant agrees with Wohlsen’s assessment that Amazon likely created the patent as a preemptive move against its competitors. The market for ebooks carries with it many challenges including selling consumers on how the secondary market would work. The patent could be Amazon’s attempt to keep anyone else from attempting to establish any similar models at this moment in time.
When ebook prices are already lower than physical books, will consumers go through the trouble of acquiring a used copy at a such a marginal savings? Used ebooks has the potential to disrupt not only the sales of big publishers and independent publishers, but Amazon itself may not profit form such a risky business model. Perhaps Amazon has created the patent to ward off any potential competitors in market that seems unnecessary.