Second-Hand EBooks

Yes, folks: I read about this. My first impressions: a) I’m awfully suspicious that it means nothing good for writers who want to get paid for their work using the current compensation model, b) If Amazon actually wants this to work they are going to have to become strikingly transparent in their processes, which they hate, or be slammed with class-actions suits from writers from day one, c) if I were a lawyer I would already be salivating at the class-actions suits to be filed the very first time it becomes clear that Amazon is reselling eBooks that are not, in fact, the sole versions of that specific, originally sold copy (i.e., buyer takes eBook file, copies it, takes original file and resells it to Amazon), d) if I were a publisher I really wouldn’t have any doubt Amazon wants me dead. These are only first impressions; further impressions may be more subtle.

Go ahead and discuss this in the comments. Do me a favor, please, and actually discuss this topic, rather than, as so often happens in any discussion of digital rights or publishing, pulling out your cue cards of standard talking points about ebooks and/or the field of publishing, either pro or con. Your cue card talking points are boring, and I might just Mallet you out of the boredom you will induce in me.

148 thoughts on “Second-Hand EBooks

  1. I can understand why publishers and authors dislike the idea. But if the ownership of digital media cannot be transferred, it also can’t be inherited. At that point, we will open an awful big can of constitutional worms ;-). So we better agree, that there should be a process to transfer the ownership.

    My conclusion: We have to establish rules for the transfer of digital goods. If publishers (and authors) decide, that their contribution to this process is only a “no”, they forfeit quite some chances to influence the outcome. Otherwise someone like Amazon will establish de facto rules and get away with it.

    Just my $0.02

  2. First Wendig, now Scalzi, seconds apart in my RSS. Now I’m freaked :)

    I can see exactly what they intend for this to mean, buying and selling licenses like physically usable items, but like John says, that’s going to require a very large deal of publicly accessible information from Amazon. That’s not likely to happen.

    Its also going to require the licenses that initial purchasers buy to include language that allow for the resale. I haven’t actually examined one of these licenses yet, but I’m going to guess that this whole thing will require some brand new license language and that none of the traditional publishers would ever allow their content to be sold with such a license.

    What I’m guessing it will mean is that all the folk who are just pumping out indie stuff into the Kindle ecology are going to be forced to agree to selling such licenses. I’m almost willing to put money on there already being language in place in these authors’ agreements with Amazon that will either allow for this activity as is or at the very least allows Amazon to change terms whenever they want, at which point everyone who has pubbed through them in this fashion will get a rude awakening.

    Just knew that Amazon was going to try to make some sort of landgrab, though it looks like they’re content to make marginal gains on secondary sales with an option to later steal a bit more outright.

  3. Amazon sells a license, not an actual ebook, so there can’t be a used ebook. If and when they change their Ts and Cs to reflect that self-publishers are agreeing to allow them to sell the actual ebook versus the license, then we’d all have to worry. But my hunch is that isn’t going to happen – self-pubbing at Amazon would basically dry up, and the trad pubs would never go along with it, so they’d be putting a bullet in their own, well-developed market. I personally don’t see that happening.

  4. I assume Amazon would require some form of access to your devices in order to wipe that eBook away? I vote no. In fact forget voting, that’s just not happening. This is madness. A dog eared and well read book that gets passed around is a wonderful thing, but Amazon are a mile away from good sense on this.

  5. @illmunkeys Yep, Valve is currently getting sued by the consumer association, but the outcome is still in the open. But i think they should have started the campaign with a case of someone denied his heritage. That would have been won far easier.

  6. How about in any future contracts with Amazon it is stated No Used copys of this work may be sold … Blah blah . You get the idea.
    For anything currently out there, wow. Authors are definately going to get more exposure, some folks like thinking they are getting something on sale. I’d rather buy the damn thing and have the legal right to own it. That means buying the original version. I like the authors to keep entertaining me!!

  7. It strikes me as an unwise and unsustainable business model, but then, as a kid, I watched large rock quarries drive smaller competitors out of business by selling basalt at a loss for a year or two, only to raise prices once they were the only game in town. That sort of behavior isn’t just unethical, it’s illegal, and I hope that it isn’t what we’re seeing here right now.

    So I guess I’m just riffing on d).

  8. I hear your concern, but I really don’t see how this is different from someone buying a music CD, ripping the contents to MP3 and then reselling the CD on the used market. The person ripping the tracks is committing a crime, the reseller handling the sale of the used disc is acting in good faith. I would expect that the same applies to used ebooks. The seller can commit a crime (copyright violation and/or fraud depending on how you view it) but that doesn’t make the resale an invalid action…

  9. I think its great if we get a cut of the sale, like their Amazon prime program. if Amazon gives us %10 of the purchase, then a new revenue stream would be created for authors. The only problem might be in the backlists. Do I want to buy Scalzi’s book that’s been out for ten years at a relatively premium price, or do i want to get a “used copy”. It could definitely damage the backlist model.

  10. This is really fascinating. I’m generally the first one to shout about how digital objects need to be able to function like their analog/print/physical alternatives if we want to be able to own them, but this does not actually fill me with glee.

    Looking at the ReDigi site, it seems as though there’s some sort of partnership with artists, which I like … but how would Amazon do this without (even more) invasive/restrictive DRM?

  11. Wait.. how exactly can they have a “used” electronic file?

    When transferring “used” mp3 song files is illegal as all hell? Can I now sell all my used MP3s on Amazon?

  12. This one’s tricky. Thing is, it’s “obvious” that I should be able to give someone a book I’ve bought, right? I pay $8 for a book, I get something which is “a book”, I read it, I give it to a friend, no harm no foul, right? I sell it to a friend, still fine. Sell it to a bookstore who sells it to some guy, still fine.

    Thing is, that works in part simply because we are pretty sure that, eidetic memory excepted, I no longer have the book I gave away or sold. I’m not increasing the number of books in circulation without paying any writers.

    And the thing is, given that ebooks are typically about the same price as paperbacks, it’s not exactly a really appealing deal to get a book I can’t later sell or give someone, but pay the same price. Except for the convenience.

    My thought: Imagine (hey, you’re a sci-fi writer, you should be good at this) a species eerily like our own, but in which everyone is fundamentally and compulsively honest — no one will enter into an agreement in bad faith, break a contract, or anything. Given that, it seems to me immediately obvious that we would be fine with people sellling used e-books. I get my e-book, I read it, I hand it back to Amazon or whoever for $2, they resell it to someone else for $4, and it’s no different in any obvious way from existing used book stores. Big difference is, booming sales for ebooks because their value to customers has increased.

    The problem comes in the enforcement angle — what do we do about the possibility of someone selling an e-book back to a vendor, or giving it to a friend, and not bothering to delete their copies?

    My gut feel: If you simply ignore that, my guess is the net result for the majority of cases would be net increased sales. Yes, there will likely be people copying stuff around. Some of that may result in more sales, some in less sales. Now, whether “net sales” matters to you more or less than “people reading books they didn’t pay for” is sort of a matter of personal taste.

    Really interesting question…

  13. Did Amazon somehow find a loophole in their contracts with the publishers that allows them to distinguish between “Used” and “New” digital media?

    The only possible way to distinguish between the two is via EULAs; in the real world, there’s no such thing as a “used” digital file.

  14. My initial guess is that Amazon would soon be re-wording their purchase agreement into more of a rental agreement in which you get your 5¢ deposit back (10¢ in Michigan) from your $14.99 e-book lease.

  15. I think this creates a pretty scary incentive for putting DRM on ebooks, as it would be the only way to ensure a user did not just copy and resale.

    I think that writers, publishers, and consumers lose on this one, and Amazon wins.

  16. I’m still a bit skeptical about how this works because a computer file can be copied in ways that are a lot harder to do with most physical goods*. I suppose Amazon/B&N maintain online depositories of all the books one buys on their site for their reader (and Amazon at least, has been known to yank things directly from one’s Kindle), but it seems a lot harder to make sure folks aren’t breaking their licenses by copying the file and reselling than it is to make sure people sell the physical book to others.

    It also strikes me as even harder for non-DRM’d material. At least with a DRM, Amazon can lock you out of a file you’ve sold the license to. About all they can do for non-DRM’d material is prevent future downloads, which isn’t a terribly big deal when one can back up files.

    (In other words, I want to see how it works before I can feel good about it, mostly because DRM shenanigans in the past have left me uneasy about these sorts of things.)

    * Though I suppose nowadays I mostly just rip my CDs and don’t care much for the physical objects. The rare times I buy CDs instead of just downloading the music directly from the digital music seller of choice.

  17. I think the audio downloads will be the easiest point on which to fight this, because so many people use iTunes to listen to audiobooks — iTunes, by default, makes a copy of the file upon import, putting it into the iTunes folder. Another copy is then made to my iPod. I have in the past deleted items from iTunes that were still on my iPod. Upon plugging it in, I’m given the option to copy it back. And even if neither is the case, if I’m using TimeMachine or some other backup, I can restore it even after a very thorough search of my computer. In other words, short of phone-home DRM, I don’t see how they could verify that I no longer have a copy of that which I am selling. Of course, similar arguments are presumably being raised in the RiDigi case, so we’ll see how that goes.

    Here’s a thought experiment. If I tear pages out of a book or white-out passages, I can still sell that book. I won’t get as much money for it, probably, and anyone who buys it without paying attention might be sorely disappointed. What happens if I scramble the file in some way, and sell it back to Amazon? Will Amazon make sure that the person “buying” my used copy actually gets that scrambled file (with the various unpleasant options for clawing back their money that still must be done on their own time)? Or will they be given, essentially, a brand new copy in exchange for me destroying my mutilated one? I think that if the latter is the case, then this is not really a used book exchange, it’s just an excuse to cut the author/publisher out of royalties.

  18. @ Kyle Wilson – Is someone really committing a crime if they rip their CD collection to MP3, and then re-sell their CD’s? This is an honest question, not a criticism. Ripping your CD collection to MP3 is legal, isn’t it, as long as you don’t go about sharing the MP3 files? I know is selling used CD’s is legal. I’m no lawyer, and I simply don’t see the crime there.

    As for selling used ebooks – it just seems like a poor idea all around.

  19. Is it too early in the conversation to make snide remarks about the electrons being used previously by other stars? Because I’m too livid to say anything cogent.

  20. I can see a couple of ways for Amazon to do this while attempting to push the legal obligations onto the party re-selling, similar to their current management of their boutique vendors. It would require a lot of work to police all the re-sellers, and that would probably mean they’d take a hefty cut.

    So if, as an example, I have a copy of an e-book I purchased for $7.99, I would log onto my A.c resell account, digitally sign an affidavit that the copy I’m uploading for the resale is the actual copy I purchased and that I have no unauthorized copies thereof, upload it, offer it for resale at, say $2.99, and A.c takes a cut of… I’m guessing 40%.

    I hear you on the issue of people buying, copying, reselling, but that already puts the buyer in violation of most DRM provisions, not sure it would be a legal issue for Amazon to police as part of their resale market. Currently there’s nothing except courtesy, respect for the law, and good taste to prevent me from copying any book in my e-library and then giving the original to someone else on digital media and charging them for it.

    It will be interesting to watch how this plays out.

  21. Preface: Transparency is key. The ability to resell increases the value to the original purchaser and this added value _may_ be the tipping point to a purchaser. Selling more copies is consistent with the standard economic analysis, if you are into that kind of thing. Postscript: Transparency is key.

    I cannot argue against these statements of great caution: [1] Amazon is anything but forthcoming and transparent. [2] Amazon is happy to “eat the lunch” of its own successful vendors, capriciously.

  22. So if I sell my Kindle book to someone else, my ownership of it is presumably revoked by Amazon and granted to the other person. Would Amazon then purge it from my devices? If I had a saved copy and tried to load it into a Kindle, would it be refused?

    And, possibly more importantly: would the “used” ebook be sold at a lower price point? Why?

  23. Questions:

    Does the value proposition of a digital book include a discount to compensate for the inability to resell the book after I no longer want it?

    How will that First Sale Doctrine question currently before the SCOTUS play into this?

  24. I would think publishers would stop selling ebooks on Amazon over this. With that kind of ebook marketplace your looking at 50%+ of ebooks being resells due to the ease of it. You buy. Read once on your tool, then click a button and get 40% back and Amazon resells it at a bigger profit.

    These can be resold indefinitely.

  25. Waymore, Amazon already HAS access to your device, if you’re buying ebooks from them. You’re either loading them onto your Kindle, or into an iOS/Android app. You open the app, they control what content you see in there.

  26. I think the source article is over reacting to a patent filing from 2009. Tech companies routinely file patents on any stray thought related to their products, sometimes for no other reason that blocking a competitor from doing the same. The existence of a patent filing tells us nothing about Amazon’s plans.

  27. I’ve just started selling my backlist on Amazon and Kobo, and I’m learning as I go.

    If Amazon also creates a new revenue stream for indie self-pubbers, I’ll be fine with reselling “used” ebooks. But if they arbitrarily rewrite their Ts and Cs (and by continuing to self-pub on Amazon, you agree to any changes made since you first went in with them), then I’d pull my books and just sell them from my own web site. The exposure and convenience of Amazon wouldn’t make up for their stabbing authors in the pocketbook.

  28. Amazon already has access to your devices. Remember when they yanked the Orwell books? They were covering their own mistake but it would hold true for removing books sold back. That said, it takes almost 30 seconds to remove DRM from an Amazon ebook once you have the software. It takes about 5 minutes of google searches and downloading to get the software. There is no way to protect against it. At least breaking a steam license takes work. This is nothing but Amazon trying to make their own version of Mobilism that pays.

  29. @PJ: Ripping CDs with DRM would be illegal, because the only way to get to the data would be to break the DMCA. However, most CDs are no longer DRMed and therefore not illegal. It would be illegal to rip the CD and then sell the physical item without deleting your digital files. Impossible to enforce, but illegal all the same.

  30. Every week round here there are carboot sales, and a staple of those are people selling second hand books. This has not caused the world to end. Nor has Amazon or EBay selling pre-owned books. If this is true, this actually removes one of my objections to ebooks. Selling second hand books, whether real or electronic text document, is part of how book sales work and part of how the world works. I’m just glad to see the internet catching up to real commerce (now there is a sentence that you don’t often see, usually it is the other way around).

  31. Do me a favor, please, and actually discuss this topic, rather than, as so often happens in any discussion of digital rights or publishing, pulling out your cue cards of standard talking points about ebooks and/or the field of publishing, either pro or con. Your cue card talking points are boring, and I might just Mallet you out of the boredom you will induce in me.

    Awwww, but I pulled out my ebook Bingo card and everything!

  32. @PJ — Technically, yes, you are supposed to delete your ripped MP3s if you sell the CD. Your MP3s are legal backups of something you own, but if you sell it those files are no longer protected by the backup clause.

    In practice, I’d be very surprised if anyone anywhere has ever done this.

  33. For this to work, it will require unholy, video-game levels of constant-online-check-DRM, not the easily cracked stuff currently on Kindle books. Because if you can’t absolutely guarantee that your ebook is being transfered instead of copied, this is “publishing,” not “reselling.”

    So publishers who only sell DRM-free ebooks have nothing to fear from this. The likes of Eric Flint and Cory Doctorow have been warning for years that DRM was leading publishers into a cattle pen for slaughter, and this only confirms it.

  34. I think PW is having us on. Amazon states explicitly that you have a license to read the book on a Kindle, or whatever, and you don’t own it. You can’t resell something you’ve never owned.

  35. @PJ I’m reasonably certain that if you buy a CD and rip the tracks, you (at best) only have the right to keep playing the tracks as long as you own the original CD. Otherwise you could just pass the disk around to your 100 best friends for a nominal fee and legally replicate the tracks across all of their libraries. I believe that there is an approximate fair use exception for format shifting content that you own. Once you hand off a copy (in whatever form) one of the owners is violating copyright law. If you are the one who consciously made a copy and then sold the disc (to a buyer who in good faith believes he now owns the only copy) then I’d expect that you’d be the one open to a million dollar civil suit from the RIAA (assuming they ever caught up with you).
    I’d think that this would be one area to take a look at for prior precendents. Is there a large traffic in used CD discs where the original buyers are still holding ripped copies of the tracks while the used purchasers are also listening to the same ‘content’.

  36. I would be *very* surprised if Amazon were ever to sell used copies of ebooks (ebook licenses, technically) that weren’t sold via Amazon in the first time. So then it’s basically a case of removing a license from one kindle account and adding it to another. And yes, that can remove the book from all the kindle devices and apps linked to the original account (at least as soon as they phone home, over the 3G if they have it or wifi otherwise) — we already know they could do that technically, you remember the old 1984 fiasco that they pulled.

    It’s of course *possible* to rescue the azw from one of your devices, dedrm it, and use it as the DRM-stripped mobi… But then it is also trivial to download that same mobi from a torrent site in the first place.

  37. I think e-books need a different business model, one that isn’t tied to the physical way of doing things. I’d gladly pay $2 a month for a digital subscription of the ongoing works of Scalzi, for instance, sort of like the $1 a week I’m paying for one book right now.

  38. @waymor Amazon has that access, at least to the Kindle. And they’ve done it before. (Appropriately enough, it actually was 1984)

  39. One thing I don’t like about this (there are several but I’ll focus on just one) is that it absolutely requires DRM to work.

    As someone who’s reinstalled the kindle app on various devices, I’ve more than once run across the issue of being unable to read previously downloaded kindle books on the same device because the new install isn’t on the file’s list of authorized installations even though it’s tied to the same account. It’s a minor irritation, and would be more of one if I kept more books on the device and fewer in the cloud.

    Still, I can see how it would work (at least for Amazon) easily enough. Just delete the license from one account and add it to another. Even so, I really don’t like the can of worms it creates. (And what of Tor and Baen who don’t use DRM?)

  40. I see a way this could be done somewhat securely. As someone said above, they’re selling the license, not the book.

    When I download an Mp3 from iTunes, it is connected to my account. I need to be signed into my account to play it. I can access it from multiple devices signed into that account. But if I transferred the license to another person (Unsure if I can do this with iTunes…I don’t think so) all of the files on all of my devices no matter how many times I backed it up beforehand would become unplayable.

    Sure, DRM is crackable. But the legal right of Amazon to do this would likely not depend upon the ease of lawbreakers circumventing the intent. It would also not require Amazon to have any access to the content on our devices. Of course, the only ebooks Amazon could resell would be ebooks Amazon sold in the first place.

  41. I’ve read about the patent. What Amazon has managed to patent is an idea, and not one they are the first to have either. Lots of computer programs have come with the”x number of installs allowed” for years. Many of the patents Apple has are also ideas (, “slide to unlock”…ever owned a briefcase?) Obviously there’s a problem with the US Patent Office granting patents that shouldn’t even have been considered. I’d think someone has some sort of oversight power over the USPO, and it looks to me like they should investigate this.

    Secondly, as has aready been mentioned, e-books are sold as a licence. Even if we take Amazon’s patent at face value, they have patented something they have no right to, at least when it comes to books from publishers. And I don’t see any reason why publishers would allow Amazon to resell “used” e- books.
    I expect Amazon to start implementing this on their KDP books, further screwing self published authors of money. If I was a self-published author, I would be pulling my books from Amazon before I was forced to agree to any reselling of my books. I wouldn’t be surprised if once you had agreed, there was no way to stop it.

    I’d be very surprised if someone didn’t protest this patent, as I said, I see nothiing new in what I’ve read about it. I would be even more surprised if there weren’t more protests, and some lawsuits, if/when Amazon starts a “used book market” for e-books.

  42. I’ll note similar worries were raised when with “lending” ebooks.

    So as a question to OGH: how has that worked out, do you know? WIde-spread abuses, complaints, or fairly well? (Or wherever along the scale.)

  43. I also wonder how many people reread books that they’ve purchased. If the usual model is buy the book, read the book, dispose of the book then something like this might not make that much difference, at least on the piracy front. The fact that handing off the electronic copy is a little more seamless than visiting the local ‘Annies used books’ may push a few more copies through that channel (and result in a few fewer sales) than would have happened with paper books.

    I am very uncomfortable with the issue of ownership/rental of ebooks (and thus I have only ever bought one ebook to date). I do reread books over time (and have recently reread some 20+ year old paperback I own) and have concerns about decomissioning of DRM servers and such (and would thus likely dedrm any ebooks I bought as a preventative measure in any case). A model that makes ebooks behave more like paper books would help to make me more likely to trust that ebooks are legally my property and likely to remain my property for as long as I choose…

  44. I don’t want the authors to be cheated, but in the current arrangement I feel VERY cheated when I pay almost as much for an e-book as for a hardcopy but cannot even lend it to friend (exceppt for a very small number of lending-enabled books). If people could lend or resell their e-books it might make them more popular and not harm the authors at all.
    However, it does seem to me that it would be relatively easy to “cheat”, essentially steal an extra copy of the book. If I wanted to cheat, I would have my Kindle but never turn its wifi on. I would download all my purchases to my computer. I would then transfer the book to my Kindle using a cable. When I sold the book back to Amazon it might disappear from my computer, but Amazon could not get to my Kindle. How do you guard against that?

  45. “used” electronic anything may be the silliest thing I have ever heard of. It’s a string of bits! We can make (theoretically) infinity strings of bits identical to that string of bits! This is really, really dumb and pretty transparently a way for Amazon to make money on eBooks while cutting out authors and publishers completely.

    I am reminded of http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2007/03/30

  46. On a personal level, I like the idea of a model which reduces the price I pay for an ebook (yes, that’s one of my cue card talking points). But not at the expense of the authors whose work I enjoy. And though I’m no fan of the huge publishing houses*, I still don’t want to see them run out of business. Especially by a company whom I like even less: Amazon.

    * Reading the Whatever has softened me a little bit towards publishers. More than that I can’t say without getting out my cue card talking points. ;)

  47. I’m intrigued.
    The current eBook system(s) are severely flawed (Dare I say broken), there is no more sharing. Even though I bought “Redshirts” I can not share it with my wife (unless I want to let her use my eReader – and then what am I going to read?). She was not interested until she read some reviews and then asked me what I thought.
    With Physical books I could lend, borrow, give or take among my family and friends. With eBooks no can do.
    That said I pretty much only read eBooks now (I have over 300 on my reader), saves a lot of weight in my luggage.
    I feel that publishers should give the e-version away with each purchase of the physical. There are many books I want in my library, but I want the eBook to actually read.

  48. Reselling e-books is good for sales because people will realize that they can recover some money from a book they purchased if they don’t want to keep it. Right now, I can sell a hardcover book I purchased for 20-30% of my price (depending on demand) which lowers the cost of me trying something new. If I can purchase a brand new ebook and then sell it later if I don’t want to keep it, I might me more likely to go ahead with the purchase. In addition, if I can get an author’s back list book for cheaper, used prices, then it’s more likely that I like the author and be willing to purchase their new books at full price.

    But, as always, the devil is in the detals.

  49. Imagine (hey, you’re a sci-fi writer, you should be good at this) a species eerily like our own, but in which everyone is fundamentally and compulsively honest

    Do you mean like this one:
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1058017/ (The Invention of Lying)

    As for the CD/MP3 vs eBook topic, it seems to me that this would be similar to printing out an eBook onto paper and then selling the eBook. (It feels weird and a little dirty to be going in the non-electronic direction on this, but still.) As with the MP3, you still have the back up in another medium that you were allowed under US law but you no longer have the original.

    The real question is how much time will it take to rip a copy of an eBook? If it takes ten hours, then there are few who would be willing to do it and copies of eBooks being sold on the grey market will be a self-limiting problem. But if (as I suspect) it only take a minute or two, then this could easily become a large problem for the more successful writers. Given that most authors are only known to a very small group, it won’t be as large a problem for them as there will be fewer people willing to rip their books.

    Using CDs as an analogy again, there are very few people willing to buy a used CD of (fill in your favorite obscure artist here) simply because there are very few people who have heard of them. As a result, the used CD would have to be marked very low in order to sell. But a used CD of the Beatles will always be popular, simply because people know the band. Given that you can rip a CD for the Beatles just as quickly as you can rip one for FIYFOAH but you get “paid” more for ripping the beatles, guess which one will be ripped more often?

    So our generous host is in deep trouble with this scheme by Amazon. Me, not so much.

  50. @crypticmirror

    Every week round here there are carboot sales, and a staple of those are people selling second hand books. This has not caused the world to end.

    Except in that case, you know you’re buying/selling the original object and not a copy. Makes all the difference in the world.

  51. I think that at some point, American jurisprudence will move on to acknowledging the ownership of digital goods (and render illegal the ‘license’ model). Once that happens, used ebooks will become a thing. Until then, though, they won’t be legal here; Europe aside, American laws are much slower to move on these sorts of things (much less consumer-friendly, among other things).

    Should used ebooks exist? That’s a really complicated question, I think. Why would anyone buy a new eBook, if you could buy a used one at 60% of the price? Once the initial run during the first week or two, 80% of those people (probably much higher even) won’t reread the book; so every copy read after that would be used. It’s not like physical books, where a used copy a) has to be sold near you and/or some shipping charge must be paid, and b) the used book is inferior to the original, in that it has suffered some wear and tear inevitably. So, while from a ‘rights’ perspective we probably ought to have the right to re-sell used eBooks [first sale doctrine], it certainly would drastically alter the book market – books would become way, way more expensive, since John still needs to get paid. Instead of selling 300k copies, with 80k the first week, you’d sell ~100k copies; the first 80k would sell, then 60k of those would go back on the market within a week or two. Backlist royalties would disappear – you’d never sell another copy new after the first two months give or take. That’s what, half of your income some years, John? So new book prices would have to more than triple to pay for the copies not sold, and the big publishers would probably gain even more, as it would be harder to work as a novelist without advances [as you now don't have the nice backlist that keeps career novelists comfortable to be able to switch to less traditional publishing].

    What I suspect is the most fair outcome – and perhaps best for consumers – is to combine a few different approaches. You will have to allow used sales; but to make it more appealing to not buy used, significantly lower the price of backlist titles. Backlist titles shouldn’t be 6-7 dollars apiece five years out; drop them to $2, allowing the author to keep almost all of that. Adjust the pricing/royalties/whatever to ensure Harper Collins makes its money in the early run. First week books are $20, three months in they drop to $15 (or faster if they don’t sell). After a year, $8 to $10. Once they’ve hit basically end-of-life, drop to $1 or $2 depending on the author (Scalzi’s works would always be $2 or even $3, I’d guess; random-author-of-the-week would be $1).

    Then, change the terms of sale with Amazon. Make it so that Used titles cannot be advertised simultaneously with New titles. If Amazon wants to keep selling new titles, they can’t sell used titles in the same market. (IE, they can operate half.com or whatever, but a search on Amazon.com cannot return used titles.) Once the eBook market matures a bit, Amazon won’t be quite as key to sales as they are now; in particular, once books drop DRM like Tor has already done, and like music did, it won’t matter where you buy titles. Format issues will get worked out, eBook readers will be able to read any major format, and Amazon will be important, but not vital.

    Third, offer bonuses with new purchases. The most important of those I would imagine would be audio copies. Amazon is already starting to work this one out – you can get very reduced price Audible copies now with books. Finish this – make it so that a new book comes with a free audio download, or a coupon for a steep discount at least. There will of course be a secondary market in audio recordings as well, but the debundling with used copies will mean it’s less valuable nonetheless.

    Finally, and perhaps most importantly, work out a subscription model. In the scheme of things, the contract I sign with John Scalzi et al is that I will give them some of my income, and in exchange they will keep me entertained (and expand my mind!). I pay, perhaps, $25 a month in exchange for this privilege. In exchange, Tor gets $10, s/Scalzi/whomever I am reading/ gets $5, and Amazon gets $10. Why not set up a subscription where I pay that constant $25 for the right to read any Tor title published, now or in the past? Tor can keep the $10, Scalzi the $5, and subscription company $10. Then, the license model is acceptable – it’s a library subscription, basically – and prices are reasonable, while I still get access to every title I’d like to read. This ultimately will happen – Netflix and Spotify say it must be so; it’s just a matter of when, and who’s in charge [Amazon, or someone else]. Once that constant revenue stream is established, the concerns over used eBooks will become far less important.

  52. Publishers already hate dealing with ebook lending in libraries. I really wonder how they’re going to react to this.

  53. It is an interesting concept and of course the devil will be in the details.

    I’m just speculating here but this might be made to work if :

    The licence to read the work could be returned to Amazon for a nominal fee say 25-50% of the “cover” price – common enough at the used book stores that I frequent. The e-book would then disappear from the initial end-user’s device – I believe Amazon has this ability and has used it in the past to remove Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm when they discovered they did not have the right to distribute. Credit is then applied to the initial users account for future purchases.

    Amazon would then have the option to mark-up the license to read the work and resell to whom-ever is willing to purchase. I would assume they would then resell at the original cover price.

    This COULD be good for publishers and authors if Amazon then paid again for the privilege to resell the e-book license.

    The end user wins because they can get some return for the e-book that they have decided they do not want to read again, or possibly liked the e-book so much they want to own the hard-cover. ;-)

    The Publisher and Author win because they have received the same compensation as they would have if selling a “new” copy of the e-book.

    Amazon wins because they make some profit on the transaction and encouraged their customer to purchase more with the “refund.”

    Will it play out this way – not a clue. I’m not against the idea as there are a few titles on my tablet that I wouldn’t mind “returning.” As I said above I’m just speculating and might be blowing warmed air out of a convenient orifice.

    Mike

  54. It’s just a patent at the moment.

    But long term I can see it being an issue. As others have said, it is trivial for Amazon to delete an ebook purchased from Amazon from one Kindle account and transfer it to another. I do think that this leads to the end of long tail book sales, as why would you buy a new e-book when the identical one is available for less? Amazon has basically established that second hand books are (mostly) 1c plus $3.99 postage, so I do buy quite a few secondhand, as I’m OK with gently badgered books. Second hand e-book sales seem to be a perfect mechanism to transfer the revenue stream from the publishers and authors to Amazon.

    I think you’re basically going to have to rely on peoples’ good nature (hah) to buy new, rather than used, ebooks. It will be interesting to see how that pans out – I still buy CDs/MP3s and ebooks as I want to reward the creative talent, but it is trivially easy to pirate anything these days. And it would appear that the younger generation just collect hard drives full of content and swap with their friends (as do military on deployment, for that matter). Maybe as us old people die off it will get worse, or maybe as the youth get older, they will pay for content.

    Don’t know

  55. I think an ebook is what it is – a digital version of a book. You have purchased it for “what it is” if you want something you can resell etc – then buy a paperback book. I think there has to be NO WAY to have “used” electronic bits.

    Keep it separate and you know what you are buying when you purchase a “digital” item. As you know what you are purchasing when you buy a paperback book.

  56. @waymor, et al – Amazon has always had access to your Kindle and of course they’d wipe the book from your Kindle if you resold it. You don’t have access to physical books that you resell, why should you be able to keep a copy of an ebook you’ve resold??

    Note that this ONLY works in the presence of DRM. Take the DRM off books and you no longer have an easy way to enforce any transfer of ownership. Even if Amazon could wipe DRM free books from the Kindle their very nature means that you can read them anywhere. You might need to use something like Calibre to convert them from, say, the Amazon format to ePub, but that’s trivial to do. So, if publishers want to undercut this move to a DRM free model. Piracy? Most studies show that it doesn’t hurt sales and some show that it helps (by increasing exposure) and in any event DRM is trivial to break now, akin to the difficulty of ripping a CD. Just as people could rip CDs and share MP3 files for music, they can strip DRM and share the files. It’s a LITTLE more obscure that ripping a CD but not much.

    What the publishers should do is recognize that the vast majority of us aren’t going to mass share DRM free books. We might send a friend or two a file and say “You should read this!” but that’s similar to what we do now and… well… do you really want to stop people from promoting books they love??

  57. @Becca Stareyes: “It also strikes me as even harder for non-DRM’d material. At least with a DRM, Amazon can lock you out of a file you’ve sold the license to. About all they can do for non-DRM’d material is prevent future downloads, which isn’t a terribly big deal when one can back up files.”

    I will admit that my first thought on seeing this announcement was, “Ah, this is Amazon’s response to various publishers insisting on selling things without DRM and thus freed of some measure of Amazon’s control.” It’s one thing when, sure, someone could copy the DRM-free file for their friends and send it around; didn’t matter because the ‘buy eBook’ button on Amazon was still going to guarantee you a sale. This, however, makes it seem someone could buy a DRM-free eBook, back it up, and then click ‘sell copy’ on Amazon. Gosh, that’s terrible, but poor little Amazon can’t be held responsible… after all, they can’t revoke the license for the original copy because it has no DRM, just as the publisher demanded…

    Amazon has, after all, demonstrated they are perfectly willing to go thermonuclear on publishers in the past.

  58. At the risk of suggesting a nightmare pricing model…wouldn’t it be possible to have different “versions” of the file? I know DRM as a concept is generally as popular as rectal exams, but could there not be a “high DRM” version or even a “one read” version, and a separate, resaleable version?

    I suggest it as a concept, but perhaps the Whatever community can provide better info on the feasability of this.

  59. @Dustin/others – I think the terminology is part of the issue here. “Used” does convey some decrease in quality, sure; but what we’re talking about is, in economist parlance, a “secondary market”. Identical to the folks at your corner store going to Costco, buying cases of soda, then re-selling them at a markup. The legal issues are not related to the condition of the item, but whether you have a right to re-sell it at all. While ‘license’ is the current fashion in e-books, I think that will change at some point, where ‘licenses’ are not recognized legally for digital items that are purchased [rather than lent, ie Netflix videos].

  60. @Joe:

    Finally, and perhaps most importantly, work out a subscription model. In the scheme of things, the contract I sign with John Scalzi et al is that I will give them some of my income, and in exchange they will keep me entertained (and expand my mind!). I pay, perhaps, $25 a month in exchange for this privilege. In exchange, Tor gets $10, s/Scalzi/whomever I am reading/ gets $5, and Amazon gets $10. Why not set up a subscription where I pay that constant $25 for the right to read any Tor title published, now or in the past? Tor can keep the $10, Scalzi the $5, and subscription company $10.

    I don’t know about you, but I would be spending a lot less money if I were subscribing to publishers. I read at a voracious rate, usually a couple of novels a week. Given the number of books I read per month and the number of those which are from Tor, they would be losing a good chunk of change if I could just subscribe to the entire Tor library. And I don’t think the math works out so well when you consider I read a lot more than just one author; things fall apart when you’re trying to decide how to divide things between Scalzi, Stross, Kowal, Doctorow…

  61. As you point out, John, i don’t see nay way Amazon can manage iteration control. At least not without implementing DRM up the wazoo. And as we all know, getting DRM up your wazoo is no fun.

  62. @Joe:

    Identical to the folks at your corner store going to Costco, buying cases of soda, then re-selling them at a markup. The legal issues are not related to the condition of the item, but whether you have a right to re-sell it at all.

    I think this would be more like going to Costco, buying cases of soda, potentially magically duplicating the soda (digital copy) to drink yourself and then going back to Costco and selling the original soda on the same shelf as the original at a markdown. (Because these ‘used eBooks’ would presumably appear on the same product pages on Amazon as you go to in order to make a new purchase.)

  63. I’m definitely not in favor of a model in which authors (and, for that matter, publishers, who do a shit-ton of work wrt the finished good) do not get an appropriate cut, and it’s difficult to see how re-selling ebooks could be done in a manner that is fair to the authors.

    However, that said, there are a number of ebooks on my Kindle that I wish to the Valar I could return, because they are rubbish.

  64. This sounds dubious at best especially for a corporation like amazon that actually sells not the file but a license to read a file. Possibly that is the legal loop hole this is actually jumping through.

    I also wanted to share a personal decision I’ve come to. Since starting work at an Indy bookshop with our generous discount I’m getting more new books. The money I’m spending will be going to you authors as royalties I believe and though used books are marginally cheaper for me I’d rather support the authors l love over lower prices and more books.

  65. @Krusatta:

    At the risk of suggesting a nightmare pricing model…wouldn’t it be possible to have different “versions” of the file? I know DRM as a concept is generally as popular as rectal exams, but could there not be a “high DRM” version or even a “one read” version, and a separate, resaleable version?

    Putting on my engineer hat for a moment… no. Or rather, yes, but no DRM is unbreakable. By definition, you eventually have to decode the file in order to let the user read it. And since you cannot guarantee they will have a net connection at the time they do, the necessary bits to actually open and use the file have to be self-contained on the device within the user’s control. By definition, that means the user can find a way to crack the DRM nutshell and get the delicious nutty content out.

  66. Lots of talk here about the technical side of this.
    I can’t see it actually working on that side if e-books are not “cloud storage only”, and each e-book would need to have an individual ID.
    Of course if e-books were only ever stored in a cloud, that would mean an e-reader would be a brick if it didn’t have internet access. And I’m pretty sure e-book proponents wouldn’t be OK with that.
    The individual ID would also need to be policed in some way. At the very least the publisher, or author, would have to have access to records of these individual IDs so they can monitor that Amazon doesn’t sell a used book more than agreed on. And I’m pretty sure Amazon would not be up for that. (You could set up an independent “agency” to monitor it, but I don’t see that happening either.)

  67. Traditionally, a used market for books, cars, etc. has been good for the creator (indirectly) since it results in the initial price being more supportable: “I’ll buy this $24.99 hardcover, because I can sell it for $6 after I’ve read it.” Note that used CDs on places such as Half.com routinely sell north of $7-9 — fiction books strangely don’t keep as much of their value, and fall toward the minimum price of $0.75 quickly (but textbooks stay pretty highly inflated).

    Here, though, there should never be anything other than mint condition, especially as I can’t imagine Amazon storing your “uploaded” copy of Redshirts and maintaining it on backup until someone buys that particular used copy: No, they’ll just record the license, and let someone download it again. The problem there is that if the original digital property is what is still being shipped, then M. Scalzi should get another royalty check, right?

    Should buyer of the used copy get less for his buck for a twice-read ebook when she sells it back? Ludicrous.

    Will Amazon get to call a sold-back copy a “return” that then counts against sales (and thus royalties)? Maybe, if the royalty gets credited again after the second sale… but it sounds like a way of slowly extracting value from the publisher/creator.

    How would an author feel about a book *rental*? Would the publisher get a fee for each rental? That doesn’t sound too heinous.

  68. @Rachel Audible is already a subscription service for e-audiobooks. I can imagine a similar model for e-visualbooks, wherein your subscription fee gets you access to a limited number of new titles per month (with price tiers allowing more titles), which you then retain access to in perpetuity.

  69. Amazon will have to factor in the law of the land in the market that has half a billion consumers.

    The verdict from European Court of Justice is clear.

    A) You can not sell digital works as ‘licenses’ if you charge for them once. Unless you move to a time-limited or subscription model, the buyer becomes the owner of that digital file, not the licensee. Licenses can not restrict people’s rights, and all that do so are invalid.

    B) You can not prevent the owners of the digital works from reselling them. This is what the verdict against Oracle was, and it applies to any digital file.

    C) There is a separation of culpability. If someone copies a digital file, then that person is committing a crime. Just like if someone Xeroxes a book and tries to sell that copy. The second-hand bookshop does not commit a crime if the copier tries to resell it through the book-shop. Rights of the book-shop can not be limited by a fear that a third-party will commit a crime.

    I think this is a reasonable state of affairs.

  70. Having rented books through the library on my Kindle I can see how this could work. Because the book will get wiped from your kindle the next time you turn on your wireless connection after your checkout period expires. So this would only work with books purchased through Amazon, as it would be easier for Amazon to remove the book from your own device after you sold it (assuming it has DRM).

    However, I kind of have to wonder how often people will give away free books after this, because someone could purchase all those free books and then turn around and sell them for less than you would normally have. Thus making money off something they didn’t even spend money on. I know it would make me leery of free promotion periods on any books I published.

    Of course we are only purchasing licenses and not actual books so… I’m not sure how this would really work legally… I guess will just have to wait and see how all those court cases end.

  71. I’ve often wished I could resell or regift that “Learned Optimism” audio book or the couple of other ebooks I’ve read and no longer need. I do wish someone would invent a process that makes everybody if not happy at least okay about it. I’d settle for being able to share my ebooks/audiobooks/digital books. Not sure this is death for publishers, though. I mean, isn’t a book/story like that potato chip commercial? eat all you want we’ll make more … Of course, you’ll have to pay before you eat them …

    Also, fyi joelfinkle, Amazon Prime already has a book rental program that is free for the Prime members and yet gives the author a percentage, so obviously Amazon is getting something out of it, too.

  72. But how could you possibly tell if someone had read the e-book in the bathroom? not touching this market.

  73. Just shows Amazon is not a wonderful partner for publishers, authors, or anybody who wants authors to be able to make a living. The creative industries will have to find a way to adapt.

  74. Keep it simple.
    DRM or no DRM your email address is liked to whatever your digital purchase is, correct? So, if this “used e-book” thing does come to pass, Amazon would most likely look at how many email addresses have been associated with a particular file and calculate everything (rights, comp to author, cost of file, etc.) from there. Only one/no email address in metadata? New book. More than 2? Used book and calculated as such. Yes, there are gaps missing, but technically that’s all that is needed, bar a couple of algorithms.

  75. Class-action? Seems that writers against Amazon wouldn’t make a very good class since each would have distinct and separate damages not easily determinable as a class. but done with the lawyer talk.

  76. Amazon couldn’t and wouldn’t do anything productive towards preventing the strip-DRM-and-resell issue, so the question that strikes me here is how many people are both knowledgeable[1] and dishonest enough to do so that aren’t already pirating anyway?

    Presumably the number is non-zero but I’m not sure it’s that high.

    [1] Yeah, it’s not very hard, but I don’t think most people care enough to take the effort to learn and do it.

  77. I buy a lot of inexpensive and sometimes free e-books, mainly as a way of deciding whether I like an author well enough to buy more of their works. Many of these books are clinkers that are not to my taste. I would very much like to recoup even a few pence per e-book as a resale, and I don’t mind having that book removed from my Kindle. One of the precepts of library science is “Every book their reader, and every reader their book.” E-readers too, it would seem.

  78. Customers are demanding ownership of their purchases. The EU is starting to move in the direction of supporting ‘used’ software sales as well. In the US, companies such as ReDigi are pioneering the sales of ‘used’ digital goods such as music.

    Something will have to give. This attempt to slap a ToS and ‘usage’ license on digital products is a slap in the face of a consumer and consumers are pressuring for a change to true ownership.

    Also, requiring Amazon and other such re-sellers to authenticate every copy is an awfully high bar to maintain. In effect, they are trying to ensure that they are not engaging in the trade of stolen goods vis a vi copying. No such requirement is made of physical goods, even ones that can be easily copies such as DVD, Blu Rays, CD, etc, let alone stolen goods.

  79. This isn’t a horribly difficult technical problem to solve (e.g. watermarking), but publishers poisoned the well long since by insisting on hard-core DRM in a rights grab (you don’t own that book [1], you just license it) — and included watermarking and other signature technology with it. At which point arose hosts of fanatics like me who refuse to buy DRM goods (nothing for customer relations like starting off by calling me a thief, doncha know?) It doesn’t help that e-books often cost as much or more than the dead-tree versions that can be passed on to our children and are in other ways are more valuable.

    Which means that techniques for keeping track of ownership are instantly suspect to a lot of people.

    And of course, along with us, hosts of techies found ways to crack that DRM, often justifying it because (like me) they want to enjoy the work on something other than one of the approved platforms or after the DRM master went out of the game (“Plays for sure,” anyone?)

    Nothing like an industry declaring war on its customers.

    [1] And the book in question is paper, to boot.

  80. @Rachel x2:

    First off, the Costco example – I’m assuming that there will be some method for ensuring they’re not duplicated. Frankly, at this point, this shouldn’t be an issue – because piracy is possible _anyway_. Second-hand eBooks won’t be making a difference there. Tor books are DRM-free, so you can download a Scalzi work whenever you want for free. Tying that in to second-hand eBooks is a mistake.

    Secondly, sure, some people would benefit from the subscription. Lots of people pay a lot less to Netflix than they used to pay for video rentals/purchases, no? But the reason Netflix exists is that _both parties_ benefit. You benefit, Netflix benefits, and the studios benefit. It’s not a zero sum game. You get more efficient access to movies, you get cheaper access to older movies, Netflix gets a cut, and the studios get more people watching their movies and a steady stream of income.

    I imagine a book subscription would work fairly similarly – you’d not get the newest titles day one, paying a premium for those; maybe tiers, like:
    $10 a month – only backlist [12 months old and up]
    $25 a month – backlist 6 months old and up, plus 2 new titles a month, $5 per new title additional

    It’s cheaper for you, and the publishers make a constant stream of income (as well as authors). It’s more complicated than Netflix, since while most of the people involved in the movie industry make little from royalties on backlist, book authors make a huge amount off backlist; so you’d have to make sure they get paid more directly than Netflix royalties pay (which is probably not a lot).

  81. I don’t think a used ebook market will drastically change the face of publishing for several reasons. Looking at existing used book markets gives some hints. The largest used book market that exists currently is for textbooks because they are high value books (that you probably won’t reread.) The etextbook market is actually the group I think would benefit most from this arrangement because a current hurdle to students buying etextbooks is that they don’t end up saving you any money. I can buy a textbook for $200 and sell it back to the book store for say $60 (30%), leaving me out $140 dollars which in my experience, will end up being about the same price as the ebook. If I could sell back a $140 etextbook for $42 (30%) I would diffidently think about doing it. Now the bulk of books, novels and such, have significantly lower price points. Let’s say I bought a $20 hardcover book, I sell it to a used book store for $6 (30%) they turn around and sell it for $12-15. The original seller had put the book at a price point to cover operating costs for the brick and mortar book store, to pay the publishing house and author, and turning a profit. The used book store is pricing at a point to cover their operating cost, turn a profit and nothing more.

    Now let’s take Amazon and ebooks. The initial price on an ebook covers compensation to the author and/or publishing house, some small cost of doing business for Amazon, but mostly is profit for Amazon. So let’s say I buy an ebook for $10, and sell it back to Amazon for $3, there is nothing to stop Amazon from just putting that book back up for sale at $10. More likely they’ll resell it for $6, but still my point is I don’t expect used ebooks to be significantly cheaper than other ebooks. Also, I expect publishing houses and authors will get some level of compensation from Amazon to allow their ebooks to be resold, probably a smaller percent, but still.

    My overall point is that like real books, ebook resale will likely not end up saving the consumer a ton of money, unless it is a high value book like a textbook. To boot, a large number of readers may avoid resold ebooks because of the potential lawsuit/grey market aspect discussed in this thread. Amazon or other ebook retailers would have to work out a price point to keep all parties happy with ebook resale, likely including authors and publishers in some capacity or they just won’t sign those contracts.

    In terms of keeping a copy of an ebook after you’ve sold it back, well is that individual any more likely to reread that book when it’s sitting on their computer than when it was on their ereader, probably not. Might they try to sell the data file illegally or put it up on the pirate bay, sure, but that already happens and I doubt making ebooks resell-able through an actual retailer would change existing illegal digital media practices.

  82. That sort of behavior isn’t just unethical, it’s illegal, and I hope that it isn’t what we’re seeing here right now.

    So-called “predatory pricing” has been determined by US courts to not exist (Posner was very influential here; the theory is that consumers benefit from cheap goods and if the seller raises his prices others can come in and outcompete him. Don’t blame me.) It is therefore perfectly legal.

  83. If Amazon were to give a percentage of the price each time the ebook was sold to the author/publisher, it would be fair. But I don’t expect fair from Amazon. It looks like another attempt on their part to drive other publishers out of business, and get authors under their total control. This is why I don’t own a Kindle, don’t buy ebooks from Amazon, and buy anything else from Amazon only when I can’t get it anywhere else, and I really, really want it. This could be catastrophic for the book industry.

  84. Such a lot of hullabaloo on the internet today, over one poorly-sourced PW article.

    Unless we actually see the patent application abstract that PW is referencing, we can’t know more — but it seems fairly obvious that this is an anticipatory patent.

    Amazon files it, JUST IN CASE the lawsuit against ReDigi fails — in which case this becomes a thing, and Amazon has a patent on it. It’s vaporware of vaporware — because the lawsuit isn’t going to fail… and the fact that ReDegi is the one pushing the “Amazon patent” story (see the quote at the end of the article) is all you need to know to figure that out.

  85. @bonelady I’m not sure why the originator should get a cut of the resale market for ebooks. No other product that I’m aware of works that way. Once the car company has been paid for the car, they don’t get to show up when I sell my junker to the kid down the block and insist I hand them a cut. They get their payment when they create it and sell a copy. As long as there aren’t bootleg copies being made and sold, private sales seem to me as if they should remain private sales…

  86. @Rachel: First off, thank you–both for the absence of sarcasm and the information. As far as cracking DRM…well…nothing is perfect. The Romans got into Masada, the Germans got around the Maginot, etc. Is it possible that it can be made “secure enough” to allay the concerns of author, publisher, distributor?

  87. I like ebooks because now I can have all the books I want, and I don’t have to sell them for space. For me with buying something used there is always that downside of someone used it before, maybe marked it or scratched it, or it just shows signs of wear. What is the downside of a used ebook. What would the new ebook offer that the used one does not. There still needs to be some sort of incentive to buy the new ebook, or some sort of draw back to buying one used. It seems offering essentially the same ebook at a lower price would eventually cause a problem with new ebook sales.

  88. @Joe:

    First off, the Costco example – I’m assuming that there will be some method for ensuring they’re not duplicated. Frankly, at this point, this shouldn’t be an issue – because piracy is possible _anyway_. Second-hand eBooks won’t be making a difference there. Tor books are DRM-free, so you can download a Scalzi work whenever you want for free. Tying that in to second-hand eBooks is a mistake.

    Ah, but the concern expressed earlier in the thread (and many other places) is not related to second-sale. Rather that—either through products being offered DRM-free or having DRM easily stripped off—someone could trivially back up the book, then tell Amazon ‘okay, I am done’ and have them ‘re-sell’ their copy on the same virtual shelf as the original book. DRM and piracy are not the concern here, because this model doesn’t let me sell *multiple* copies of the book (unless I buy it multiple times from Amazon) and as you say, Tor books are already sold DRM-free if someone were inclined to pirate/share them around. But this model does let me buy one copy, turn that into two, sell one back to Amazon (who then can resell it to someone else) and keep one for myself.

    As far as I know, the method for ‘ensuring the eBook is not duplicated’ is ‘the eBook vanishes from your Amazon library.’ Which does not keep me from copying the version I’ve stripped DRM off of, or the DRM-free version I backed up, onto the Kindle as a user-added file instead of an Amazon-managed one. Maybe they block it based on ISBN, then, but that then prevents someone who legitimately sold their one copy from picking up a DRM-free copy somewhere outside of the Amazon ecosystem (say, the author’s own website) and copying that onto the Kindle when they want to re-read the book. Plus, the determined folks would just strip the ISBN number out of the metadata if they wanted to get around that.

  89. It seems to me Amazon would be biting their own hand…because while there is usually a visible difference between a used book and new book, a used e-book is identical new or used. So that no one would buy new beyond the first couple of months. In particular because, as John said, you just created a legitimate market for the clever ebook duplicator. I picture software coming out that allows me to copy my ebook and then sell the original.
    Even when Amazon gets a cut, it can’t be as high as the new book cut, can it?

  90. I thought Colin, above, had a really cogent and clear interpretation of EU law – I can’t judge if it is accurate, not being an expert, but it is very clear and makes sense.

    I still don’t know if you can separate the act of copying from the act of reselling. Well, maybe with quantum entanglement. That would be great.

  91. @rachel I’m not sure why Amazon should block you if you legally obtain a copy of the ebook from elsewhere (say as a freebie in a bundle with a newer book) and sell back the copy you bought from them. Seems legit to me. You wound up with two legal copies of the book, sell one into the used market and keep the other one for your library. I still suspect that the number of sales lost to folks who were going to reread a legal ebook, but instead cloned their copy and sold back the original is tiny. Piracy is already going on and will continue regardless (and perhaps with a lower priced used market might even lose a little steam). As long as Amazon removes your right to download the instance that you’ve sold back and makes a good faith effort to block or remove the copy on your reader, I’d expect that they’ve done their due diligence.

  92. @Krusata:

    @Rachel: First off, thank you–both for the absence of sarcasm and the information. As far as cracking DRM…well…nothing is perfect. The Romans got into Masada, the Germans got around the Maginot, etc. Is it possible that it can be made “secure enough” to allay the concerns of author, publisher, distributor?

    Honestly, DRM is not—and is never going to be—a really effective solution, no matter how much publishers or retailers want it to be. DRM is one of those things where no matter how you set things up, the end result is still going to be to inconvenience legitimate users in some way while not actually stopping anyone but the most casual pirates. Sure, if every eBook was DRM-free, some people might go, ‘oh, well, sure, you want to read this too? Here’s my copy.’ and just pass that out to friends, and that might slightly decrease sales. But realistically, DRM is supposed to be there to stop the die-hard pirates, and by definition the end-user has to have the keys to get through the DRM or they can’t use the content. And if you have both the lock *and* the key, you can eventually figure out how the two fit together. So the pirates will still get through, and the legitimate users who don’t pirate find themselves stuck with the less-ideal experience.

    I really don’t think there’s a good answer to this, at least not one that’ll be found quickly or easily. Realistically, as someone who loves browsing used bookstores or loaning out books I think a friend should read, I feel like I should be able to sell off or trade around eBooks. As a software developer (who has worked in the games industry before) and aspiring writer myself, I also see all the potential problems, simply because digital versions of a product *aren’t* the same as physical ones for oh-so-many varied reasons. And man, I really do think Amazon is hostile towards publishers in some ways.

  93. @Kyle:

    @rachel I’m not sure why Amazon should block you if you legally obtain a copy of the ebook from elsewhere (say as a freebie in a bundle with a newer book) and sell back the copy you bought from them. Seems legit to me. You wound up with two legal copies of the book, sell one into the used market and keep the other one for your library.

    Right. That would be legitimate, which is the problem: any technical method you can come up with to block me from doing something illegitimate like buying the book from Amazon, making a backup copy, selling back the legitimate copy and then copying my illicit backup onto the Kindle to read later will almost certainly also block me from legitimate courses like buying the book from Amazon, selling it back, and then later deciding I want to read it a second time but want to support the author more directly and picking up the eBook from their site.

  94. (Also, apologies to our host; I only just realized that in answering the questions about what DRM is/how it works/why it doesn’t work from an engineer’s technical standpoint, I accidentally violated the ‘avoid the standard talking points’ request above. Not my intent; sorry!)

  95. @Rachel I guess I’m wondering how large a group there is that likes the book enough to reread it, but is slimy enough to go through the effort to sell back their legal copy and clone an illegal copy for later use. I’d expect that most folks who are that passionate about the author’s work are likely to just keep their legal copy. As for buying a copy from another source and then selling back the first copy, between the (likely substantial) difference between the buying price and the selling price and the fact that most authors have legally binding agreements with their publishers that prevent them from selling copies from their own web portals alongside normal distribution channels, I don’t really buy this one as an issue.

  96. I asked out of ignorance and in direct relevance to the thread topic. If someone has to be malleted, John can mallet me instead.

  97. Gareth Skarka:

    “Such a lot of hullabaloo on the internet today, over one poorly-sourced PW article.”

    This from the same person who was annoyed that the Internet was not in a sufficient hullabaloo yesterday about something else!

    Clearly the Internet is an unruly beast!

    Krusatta:

    No Malletings. YET.

  98. @Kyle:

    @Rachel I guess I’m wondering how large a group there is that likes the book enough to reread it, but is slimy enough to go through the effort to sell back their legal copy and clone an illegal copy for later use.

    Maybe this is just cynicism born of several years working in the video game industry a while back (and a lot longer in the software industry in general), but my answer would be “more than you think because many people will do it just because they can, and even if the numbers aren’t that large, those are going to be precisely the ones who this system tries to address.”

    There are a non-zero number of people who would back up the books just for the sake of “look at how many eBooks I have stored on my machine” and then sell them back to Amazon because hey, selling back the books means more money. Just as there are a non-zero number of people who pirate video games whether or not they’ll ever play them more than once, just because hey look they have this huge library of games! And even if those people aren’t a serious problem financially, they’re going to be the ones who any security/rights management solutions focuses on shutting down, and most solutions to stop that will lead to the other problems (like the example I gave above).

    @Krusatta:

    I asked out of ignorance and in direct relevance to the thread topic. If someone has to be malleted, John can mallet me instead.

    I doubt he’s going to mallet either of us, since intent probably counts for something. But even if so, your question of what is DRM/can’t it solve this wasn’t really in violation. My little sideline into “DRM does not work, and tends to punish the legitimate users while providing at best minor roadblocks to pirates” was, however, pretty much the epitome of standard talking points and cue cards when DRM discussions come up. Hence why I felt I needed to apologize, not you. :)

  99. Any by “whether or not they’ll ever play them more than once” in the video game arguments, I mean whether or not they’ll play it more than one 30-45 minute session and then put the game aside forever. :)

  100. Complicated issue.
    E-books are not ‘real’ if I can’t resell/gift/inherit them. Why pay more if I get less (rights).
    But e-books are also not real in that they don’t decay, get damaged with time.
    I don’t like DRM but it allows me to check out e-books from the library, it allows me
    to buy books from amazon/tor/insert favorite book vendor here. DRM could permit me to use some middle man to sell my books.
    DRM also permits an author/book seller, to designate some copies as free or special priced (to get people talking about the series or the book) but that don’t have any resale/lending rights.
    Very complicated issue, don’t want books to be devalued completely (want authors like Scalzi to keep writing) , but since e-books could last forever, the author might be happy if he could get
    a residual on the resale. Say a 50/50 split with amazon on their transaction
    fee. Perhaps e-books could have a fixed lower cost they can’t be sold below. (ouch price fixing…) like the ways physical books are sold. At first only the hardback is available for some cost. Later a soft bound versions is available. The e-price could float downward slowly to some fixed amount. If I want the latest and greatest book it costs more, if I can wait, it costs less. But 20 years later it would still be worth something. I sell a book for $5, I get $3, Amazon get $1, Scalzi gets $1.
    Need to keep the author happy otherwise nothing to read. But I also want to avoid books disappearing completely. There are some old series I started and loved. But are not available anymore. Library copies long since gone away. Used books stores don’t have them, neither does Amazon. If it still had some non-nominal value, somebody would keep it around.
    A few years back, life got busy (had a kid) and I got out of the habit of reading. Got an e-reader and started reading again. Started going to the library again. Started buying books again (physical and e-books). For the book I am going to curl up on the couch with, a physical book is great. For that book that is a reference type book, I might want to be able to carry around a bunch in my e-reader. Surely there is some compromise, of resale rights and residuals or other that would allow e-books to be real property, with real value, like the real books they came from. – Ron

  101. Well there goes that e-books are temporary,ephemeral data files that I won’t be able to keep forever so why aren’t they free argument, I guess.

    There is no such thing as a used e-book because e-books are not objects, they’re data files. When you buy an e-book from Amazon or other authorized vendor, you are buying access to a data file that you cannot get otherwise legally for free. The e-book vendor isn’t a seller, but instead a broker who can give that legal access and brokers the transmission of the data, not the data itself. That’s why Amazon’s and others argument that they should be able to set whatever price they wanted for e-books, as if e-books were objects like print books that they were purchasing, was entirely bogus. Amazon never purchases e-books from publishers; it brokers the access and includes services of using its formats. The access to an e-book file can have limitations placed on that access, such as DRM, and access can be temporary, such as e-book library loaning. Realistically, no one is really getting policed as to what they do with the data once they have access to it, whether they copy it, etc., but it’s been a good faith market with the idea that those wanting to buy legally and support authors providing the content will play fair about their access.

    In used print book sales, the author does not necessarily receive a cut of all those sales, and in library print books, the library pays for the copies and then in the U.S. the author doesn’t get any cut of the loan-outs (in the U.K. the author does.) These systems for print serve essentially as a type of ‘free” or discount giveaway, to spread the author’s name and work, which in turn would then have readers buying some of the new works by the author in new editions. For decades and centuries, used books and library books have shown that they complement and help rather than lessen new purchase print book sales, just as paperback sales do with hardcover sales. This is in large part because print books are objects. A used print book is often not in as good condition as a new one. New ones are more likely to be signable by the author, have newer cover art, etc. It’s like the difference between a used car and a new one on a much smaller scale.

    But there’s no difference between the access to a “new” e-book data file and the access to a “used” data file that was sold once and has no effects from use that change the object. The data files are exactly the same. There is a difference often in quality between pirated e-books in terms of scanned copies, formatting, reliability of transmission and threat of virus contagion, etc., and so that is something of an incentive for many folks to buy the legal e-books over pirated copies. But a Kindle access data file remains the same Kindle access data file unless it’s quite an old one that has degraded in some way. So reselling access legally to the data files will potentially create a large problem for e-book sales, which already are not showing themselves to be reliably stellar. And the advantage that allows author to make any money off of e-books at all — that it’s an electronic data form of the book — is eliminated, separating author from money for the device of electronic sales. Amazon effectively can now set any price it wants on e-books access through the resale of the access, without giving a cut to author or publisher for downloads and can push that offering over new e-books. Yes, that could eventually leave Amazon with less of the desired product, but it’s not really worried about that. And those reselling the access can of course illegally do a lot of things with the data file — they don’t have to keep it on their Kindle and if Amazon can resell, other vendors will offer to serve as broker too. It’s essentially legal piracy by saying that a data file is an object like a print book.

    And I would assume that it will happen, given the current set-up of the e-book market. It may very well sink the e-book market. Or not. The brokers of the access, as usual, get the most money out of it.

  102. Mr Scalzi,

    I normally agree with you; however, I strong disagree with you on this point. Information wants to be shared. The economics of book ownership is that books want to be shared.

    How is the idea of a used eBook different from that of a used physical book? You sell a used (physical) book because you are done reading it and the value of storing it on your shelf, presumably for future reading, is less than the cost of storing it. While the storage costs are lower for eBooks, the principal is the same. You have read the book and have little value for it anymore. This secondary market gives you additional monetary resources to buy books. Therefore, your overall consumption of books increases. (In purely economic terms, you experience an increase in income, shifting your demand curve outward, which allows you to consume more of everything. Presumably, some of this goes to more books.)

    As another example, let’s say you purchase a book you don’t really like. Most likely, you would then sell it used, allowing you to spend your time and money on a more enjoyable book. Current eBook markets do not allow this–at least to my knowledge.

    Additionally, increased book consumption, and lower costs to books you no longer want, allows you to do a better job of assortative matching. Therefore A) you as a reader find more pleasure in reading; and, B) you as an author have more access to more readers and your readership, on average, likes your books more.

    Information and knowledge want to be shared. Why should eBook markets be different?

    I will point you to this post on the “book ownership” for additional consideration.

    http://www.digitopoly.org/2013/01/02/subscription-models-for-ebooks/

  103. @kat goodwin I kind-of like the idea that a used ebook would have an ‘owner’s count’ on the file and that with each iteration the file would have a few more artistically applied digital coffee stains on the pages and scuff marks on cover art. Would make the digital world mirror the real world in interesting ways…

    @rachel I know that folks pack-rat thinks like this. I realize that large corporations get all squicky about such things. I still don’t see what tangible economic impact a few corner case nerds have by stashing extra (theoretically illegal) copies of books they bought and sold on old flash drives that they’ll never actually go back to. This sort of thing shouldn’t have any noticeable effect on the sales of first copy ebooks in practice.

  104. @Kyle Wilson:

    This sort of thing shouldn’t have any noticeable effect on the sales of first copy ebooks in practice.

    But I would bet you actual cash-monies that whether or not it has an effect on the sales of first copy eBooks, it will be precisely what any DRM/copy-prevention methods will be targeted at.

    Realistically, though, the ability to resell used books itself could potentially have a huge impact, less because of the ability to resell eBooks itself and more because of *how* that resale could happen. To put it another way:

    Let’s say I buy a book. I finish reading the book, and while I enjoyed it, I know myself well enough to know that I’ll probably not get around to reading it again. Right now, when I finish a book on Kindle, it now shows me a page where I can rate the book and post a review, or pick up other books by the same author or such. Imagine if that page also had a ‘Sell this copy back ($2.99 in Amazon Credit)’ link I could click right there. Since I know myself well enough to know I’ll probably not read this again, I go, hey, sure, that’s $2.99 towards some other book.

    Now let’s say you go to pick up a new eBook on Amazon. You’ve heard this book is good, but you know it’s just out in hardcover and so the eBook price is a bit high. Still, you go to the page and it says, “Read it now on Kindle: $14.99 new, $4.99 used (24 available) [Prime]” — you know that a ‘used’ digital file is identical to the new one, so you’re looking at a difference of $10 in price for *no discernible difference to you*. The vast majority of shoppers will pick the $4.99 used copy, until the ’24 available’ runs out… but by having that ‘Sell this copy back’ link when I finish the book, Amazon can easily recapture a lot of copies to ensure they don’t run out.

    And hey, that little ‘Prime only’ tag after the used price means various folks go and sign up for Amazon Prime…

  105. @rochrist
    Your distinction is only true if we assume illegal pirating of copies. Otherwise, there are only as many copies as there were original (legal) purchases. If this is true then your point is invalid.

    IE – the potential for harm is higher. But, malicious intent is still required to do so…. You’re commenting on potential for harm not the economics, which is the key theme of my comment.

  106. Okay, this is really suspect. Think about real used books. If I sell my copy of OMW to Powell’s and they sell it to Joe Schmoe, do you get a percentage? Nope. The thing is a used book only has a limited shelf life. It’s physical with paper and glue. Eventually the thing’s going to fall apart.

    Now imagine a digital file, stored on a drive. Shelf life? The life of the storage unit or units. Maybe it gets corrupted on an upload or something. But, practically speaking shelf life is about as long as you keep up with the technology. And all the while it’s a ‘used’ ebook, which is just another way of saying a ‘used’ digital file, stored on a disk or drive somewhere. Yeah, that’s ridiculous.

  107. “It’s of course *possible* to rescue the azw from one of your devices, dedrm it, and use it as the DRM-stripped mobi… But then it is also trivial to download that same mobi from a torrent site in the first place.”

    I’m part of a rather large online community in which the consensus is that option A (stripping the DRM so you actually are guaranteed lasting access to the thing that you buy) is common sense and de rigeur, and option B (pirating) is unethical and not so different than a five finger discount at the local bookstore. So while I don’t pretend that we are the majority, there are lots of people who have the know-how both to strip DRM and pirate books but only do the former.

    I’ve rented textbooks from Amazon a couple times. It tends to be slightly less than half the price, and the file ‘dies’ after 90 days (or other variable period) so perfect for a book that I’ll read only for a one semester course. AFAIK the DRM can’t be stripped from those, largely because the people who write the DRM stripping software refuse to enable that. So there’s already a model whereby you pay a lot less than the nominal price for a file that you don’t keep indefinitely. I don’t see why a nominal resale model works any better than that.

  108. @Kat all the issues/restrictions with ebooks also exist with printed books. You have limitations on usage and access with all copyrighted media. A printed book is just as ephemeral as a a data file. The words can be smudged or otherwise damaged. So while you may have a book, it is now of zero value, existing as little more than a stack of paper. The paper of a book is just as much DRM as its electronic sibling.

    People are not policed either when it comes to duplicating physical books. I can think of no better example than college text books and the rampant problem with people buying a text book, walking down to the copy shop, and copying the whole thing and ultimately returning the book for a refund.

    Would you opinion change if ebooks were distributed on physical media such as an SD card or a CD? In such cases software companies have attempted to claim they are selling you only the physical media, not the software on the disk and have successfully litigated. Music companies have tried to do the same with demo disks but with less success.

    With that sort of logic, it is reasonable to assume then that you should not be allowed to re-sell physical books as you own only the paper they are printed on and not the words contained therein. Access to the words is provided via exclusive non-transferable license from the publisher in good faith. Yes that sounds silly but that is precisely the reason the First Sale doctrine exists because such arguments have been made.

    Also, data is an object. It has mass. It is -real- in every sense that a printed copy is real.

  109. I don’t know about you guys, but given the average price of textbooks, conflating novels and textbooks is not a road I necessarily think I want to go down. ;)

  110. Also, I think the other problem is, as our host mentions in the original post, even if we assume that all the sellers are legal and not keeping a second illicit duplicate copy, and even if all the tweaks to DRM to allow this prove to be un-intrusive and don’t break anything else… the publishers and authors are still going to want Amazon to make the process transparent to them. They’ll want to know for certain Amazon isn’t just claiming there were more ‘used’ copies available than there actually were, selling the books at the used price and pocketing the money themselves (because, hey, resale).

    And yes, it’s nice to think that Amazon wouldn’t do that… and realistically, they probably wouldn’t. They’re a business, after all. But they’ve also made it very clear they seem to consider the publishers their enemies and would prefer people publish with them directly rather than the publishing houses, so the publishers have little reason to trust Amazon’s goodwill to run things smoothly.

    And Amazon has proved, thus far, singularly unwilling to be transparent about anything. (Have they even ever released sales figures for the Kindle Fire?)

  111. From the PW article: “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.”

    That doesn’t sound to me like it concerns eBooks at all. Amazon has made it very clear that its customers do not own eBooks as “digital objects” – instead they buy licenses to access the data. So unless Amazon suddenly changes their stance on that, I’m not going to look for a secondary eBook market anytime soon. This sounds more like a patent concerned with audio downloads.

    That being said, I’m not sure how a “secondary market” for eBooks would work. I can see how the buyer of an eBook can sell the license back to Amazon and have the content removed from their Kindle. But I cannot visualize a “used eBook” sale section, like the used book market that Amazon maintains now. Why bother? Once Amazon pays the buyers and takes the licenses back, there is no need to re-sell them. The eBook license is already listed for sale on Amazon. It would be redundant to have a “used” section.

    I can only see this “secondary market” surfacing if Amazon chooses to recognize eBooks as “digital objects.” A buyback feature definitely looks possible, though.

  112. My two cents says: I had not thought of this. The other side of my coins is: I like to collect books, in this case, Ebooks. The question in my mind is: If I pay $12.00+ dollars for an Ebook what makes it any different than a paper copy of a book. I have a right to sell it as a used bound book for a fraction of the cost I paid for it. So what make an Ebook different?. With DRM free books who’s to say many of these books aren’t making the round of the good old buddies system? I’m sure this happens. Where do my rights as a buyer end when lending an Ebook? I can lend abound book all over the place and the author has very little to say. If I am getting a one time or buyer reading only, then maybe the readers need to file a class action suit because we are getting screwed.
    Now I an not surprised that Amazon came up with this idea. Amazon seems to be for Amazon more than anyone they are for anyone else.

  113. I think the singular problem is that technology has simply made copyright in its current form unworkable. Instead of simply banning the resale of digital goods or creating a tortuous ‘licensing’ argument because it is difficult to come up with a method of resale, why not pour effort into updating copyright to acknowledge the advancement of technology? Creating new businesses and means to offer an author’s work for sale legally makes a whole lot more sense than limiting choice.

    I think the upside to used digital goods and an update to copyright is that we can push for a means to be paid for the transfer of their works. I think that would do a lot to make writing and other creative endeavors realistic as a solo career.

  114. @Ron Grant

    I think I understand what you’re saying. However, I’m wondering if you wouldn’t mind elaborating a little more on this:

    “Where do my rights as a buyer end when lending an Ebook? I can lend abound book all over the place and the author has very little to say.”

    I only ask because when you lend a bound book, you are lending the physical book. You cannot read it, it is gone. You can go buy a new one (or steal one from a store, I guess), but you cannot have that book until the person you lent it to gives it back. With an e-book, you are not giving your file to them, you are, unless I am mistaken, making a copy of that file. Therefore, you still retain your copy, AND they get a copy. This is essentially how book piracy works: Here’s this book that can be duplicated an infinite number of times among an infinite number of people. Not to mention the bound book will eventually decay, while the file (and it’s infinite copies) are nearly indestructible. And even if something were to happen to one file, there could be millions of others that you could duplicate instead.

  115. Eric Rhoades: “A printed book is just as ephemeral as a a data file. ” — I didn’t say that it wasn’t, (although there’s an argument to be made for how easy it is to wipe out data files.) But I was talking about not my argument but the argument that had been made to me repeatedly by others that data files are much more temporary and ephemeral than printed books in terms of their ownership of them and storage, really more of a loan than a purchase, and therefore, e-books should be much, much cheaper since they didn’t get to keep e-books for long (and since there was the firm, incorrect belief that e-books cost practically nothing to make and establish in a large scale retail market.) But the concept of reselling e-books clearly shows why that argument was bogus to begin with.

    “People are not policed either when it comes to duplicating physical books.” — Again, I didn’t say that they were. I said that the retail e-book market had been established as a good faith market. The print one already was one.

    “Would your opinion change if ebooks were distributed on physical media such as an SD card or a CD?” — You mean like they were in the 1980′s? I’m not sure which opinion you think I have here.

    “Also, data is an object. It has mass. It is -real- in every sense that a printed copy is real.” — If you want to get down to the electron level, yes, but that’s not really what we are dealing with. Data is electronic transmission and code. When I come here and read the comments, I’m downloading a transmission of data to which I have access granted to me by Scalzi, WordPress and my Internet server. I don’t have to pay an access fee for that data, (though I do have to pay a monthly access fee to my server,) though I may for the New York Times. If I buy an e-book from Kindle, they grant me access to download the file. They can then simply erase the file from my Kindle at any time, removing my access. Of course, if I’ve copied the file and downloaded it into storage elsewhere, then I still have the data and access to it (the good faith issues again.) But the reality is that my buying an e-book from Amazon and my buying a print book from Amazon are therefore two different things. For e-books, it’s the access for the compiled and coded data that I am buying. I am not buying software directly when I purchase an e-book — I already bought software that is installed on a Kindle or other device which then allows me to store and read the data file. (The formatting of the e-book is a type of software, and I have to have software and hardware that can read that formatting, but I’m not really buying the formatting.) So what I pay for with an e-book is for Amazon to transmit a file to me and let me read it on my device which is an actual physical object that I have likely bought.

    And the good faith part of the market is that while I’ve got access to the file, I don’t do certain things with it, such as sell that access to another person. With Amazon’s plan, then I would be able to sell that access legally through a broker who sells access to e-book files. What we’re really talking about is changes to how access to book data is sold, with ways that data is already being sold elsewhere for other things coming to the book market. And the issue is that when you sell a used book, you are selling an object that has lost some types of value, that is not the same as the new book. That slight difference is not enough to deter used book sales, but it is enough to make new books valuable over used ones, even though the text is the same, allowing used books to support new book sales.

    Because a printed book is not just the printed text, but is also an object that can be displayed as a possession of the person in the home or elsewhere. It is a crafted object and as such has value as a craft art object in addition to the contents of its text. Used books obviously can also have value and worth as a craft art object and from their age, being first editions, special editions, signed editions, etc. A printed book is a collectible, with new books being one type of collectible and used books another, with the different iterations of cover art they may have, including different art from different countries, having additional value as display and historic aspects.

    None of which you get with e-books. While you can get a copy of the cover art and it may be the cover art particular to the e-book, you can also usually obtain that art on the Internet for free (which is a whole other issue.) E-books are not collectible objects, display objects or even (since older formats are not kept,) having a historic value. The only value is the actual text and the ability to transmit it to those who have bought access to it. If you resell an e-book, the text and formatting is identical, there is no difference in value, there is no other function. It’s just a stream of data. The only difference is the price paid for the access to download the stream of data. When the difference was buying the legal e-book or downloading the illegal, often bad quality pirated e-book, there was a value difference there besides the text itself. But with legal selling and reselling — from the same vendors who supply your device with the same software, etc., there’s no difference. There’s no incentive for anyone buying the access to the e-book from the same vendor/broker to pay the vendor’s higher price for the exact same file. Amazon additionally has none of the costs for re-sold e-books that they do with brokering their used print books. And so it isn’t like the used print market at all and saying that it is, for me, is sticking your fingers in your ears and going “nah nah, I can’t hear you.”

    I don’t think re-selling is necessarily the end of the world. It may flatten out the e-book market considerably, it may not. It may have a big effect on electronic self-publishing. But it is part of the last twenty years efforts to shift the bulk of the money away from content providers and into the hands of the brokers like Amazon. It’s not exactly an author friendly policy. Will it, through word of mouth build, eventually bring in more readers than we have now? If that happens, it may have some successful effects. But if e-books simply replace print sales, (with access to books declining and with it education, and books becoming less visible so that people ignore them,) and does not grow the industry as a whole, and if the bulk of e-book sales does not provide the authors with income, then that’s not a situation most would look upon lovingly.

  116. @rachel You are probably right that allowing ebooks to be resold would have a noticeable impact on original sales of ebooks. That being said, allowing resale of automobiles (instead of for example licensing the engine control computer software only to the initial buyer to shut this down) almost certainly impacts the sales of new cars. None of this justifies denying the owners of those items the right to sell what they bought when they no longer want or need the item. Impact of illegal sales is a convincing argument to me, impact of legitimate sales is part of life and tweaking the rules otherwise strikes me a pretty much wrong…

  117. See, I always thought when you bought SOMETHING, you owned it, in perpetuity, unless you decided to give it away OR sell it.

    This is a new model that Amazon is playing with, saying in reality that if you buy an e-book form them, it still belongs to them, and once you don’t want it anymore, THEY can resell it as used. CRAZY. I don’t want someone reaching into my device doing that. If I want to give a book away, OK. That’s why I like Tor’s DRM free titles.

    @ Ron Souliere:

    Who says that e-Books are not real and they can’t be damaged? If Amazon (and I hear Barnes and Noble as well) can reach into your device and delete an e-Book that makes it REAL! And if I can’t back a DRM book up and I can lose it if my device crashes or fails, then how is it not real to me? And let me tell you something else. Electronics fail all the time. I have worked for years with PCs as a technician. Even the simple act of plugging and unplugging your device to charge it, causes it to degrade over time. The device itself just sitting there is being affected by neutrinos and other particles that could switch one in a millions bits, causing a failure. The failure you can’t explain is the failure that makes you mad. I know I’ve taken my argument to the absurd, by the point is this: ANY DEVICE can fail, so, being unable to back-up the titles I bought at Amazon means that this will definitely work for them as a business model.

    Should the Author be compensated….? That’s a tough one. Are authors compensated on the secondary market right now?

  118. I looked to see if anyone mentioned this, and couldn’t find it, so I’m sorry if it’s been hashed out already, but wouldn’t something like droit de suite or the California Resale Royalty Act (only Federal, so it’s actually viable across state lines) solve this? It’s intended for the resale of works of art that do not lose value with time. Traditional books don’t qualify, as they degrade, but eBooks retain full value.

    While it might entail some record keeping, it’s a position that doesn’t worry as much about ‘is this the ONLY copy you have?’ and more about ‘how much are you selling it for?’, because creators will then get a cut of that amount, no matter whether it’s the ‘original’ or a copy of the file.

    Just a thought.

  119. b) If Amazon actually wants this to work they are going to have to become strikingly transparent in their processes, which they hate, or be slammed with class-actions suits from writers from day one, c) if I were a lawyer I would already be salivating at the class-actions suits to be filed…

    IANAL, but it would appear that you writers waive the right to a class-action suit, at least when you go the Kindle Direct Publishing route, as noted in para. 10.1 of the Kindle Direct Publishing Terms and Conditions:

    Any dispute or claim relating in any way to this Agreement or KDP will be resolved by binding arbitration, rather than in court, except that you may assert claims in small claims court if your claims qualify…

    You and we each agree that any dispute resolution proceedings will be conducted only on an individual basis and not in a class, consolidated or representative action. If for any reason a claim proceeds in court rather than in arbitration you and we each waive any right to a jury trial. You or we may bring suit in court on an individual basis only, and not in a class, consolidated or representative action, to apply for injunctive remedies. You may bring any such suit for injunctive remedies only in the courts of the State of Washington, USA.

    Given that this is currently the favoured legal tactic amongst American companies and their customers (have you checked your latest cellular phone contract?), it would not surprise me that it will also exist in whatever other e-book publishing mechanisms are in place with Amazon.

  120. Eric Rhoads @ 5:32–While I agree with Rachel’s response that–given the prices of textbooks vs. novels–this isn’t really a useful comparison, I’d also like to say that I really don’t think students copying a bound text and then returning it to the bookstore is a “rampant problem.” I certainly haven’t noticed it in my classes. Then again, textbooks I order for my students often range from between 2000 to 3000 pages, and that is a LOT of copying. However, I also don’t think my textbooks are particularly large, so . . .

    On the other hand, the growing practice of textbook publishers “renting” books and (though rarer) etexts to students might be one for other publishers to look into. I’m not really all that familiar with how it works from the publisher’s side, but it could provide some useful data/experience for dealing with this situation, or similar situations.

  121. I was a teacher in the mid-80s, too, Giorgio, and yes, I remember faculty who did that–but not themselves. They had the campus print shop/Kinko’s do it, which meant that the minimum-wage hourly employees got the job–and then the campus print shops/etc. got hit with lawsuits and that was the end of that. Even then, I believe it was more often pieces of textbooks, put together to make a sort of “patchwork” text, than whole textbooks. Not students, though, and I honestly can’t think of even a colleague of mine who actually did the grunt-work him- or herself. (And usually, unless free copying was a departmental perk, students then got charged for the copies, too, but that’s another story.) I do know that if either a student or faculty member tries to copy a whole book via a copy service these days, the copy service will refuse–my current employer’s print shop is very firm about that. Which means that likely whoever is currently copying textbooks is doing so privately and personally, for personal use, and I honestly don’t see that happening too often.

    But we’re getting kind of off-topic just to say that “this isn’t a useful analogy,” I think . . .

  122. Here’s part of the problem: First, digital music, ebooks, movies, stock photography, etc. are practically on the honor system due to the ease of simply taking them off the net.

    Second, due to the ease of the average Joe being able to submit photos, their own music, novels, articles, etc. into arenas they never could before digital, the field is cluttered. The problem there is that starry-eyed amateurs who have day jobs are so entranced at the idea of going head-to-head with professionals, they’re practically, or are, giving their work away.

    The value of the average stock photo, once the domain of experienced professionals, has plummeted. Getty Images trawls Flickr for photos. Other arenas are following suit. Welcome to the digital world.

  123. I think that rather than ‘practically’ being an honor system – it is fully one. In fact I think of it more as a donation system. If a person wants to support an author they can go ahead and pay the suggested donation for a piece of work. If not they just get it for free.

    Again the pros and the amateurs are all making their stuff freely available the moment they distribute it (in any format). Of course this is not usually the intent but it is the practical reality.

    We’ve moved from scarcity to abundance when it comes to the transfer of information. This presents a whole new set of challenges to people who wish to make an income by being creative. This talk of selling used ebooks is just a symptom that shows how far we are from working it all out.

  124. I was a teacher in the mid-80s, too, Giorgio, and yes, I remember faculty who did that–but not themselves. They had the campus print shop/Kinko’s do it, which meant that the minimum-wage hourly employees got the job–and then the campus print shops/etc. got hit with lawsuits and that was the end of that. Even then, I believe it was more often pieces of textbooks, put together to make a sort of “patchwork” text, than whole textbooks.

    College faculty still does this, by the way. Not sure how they’re dodging the lawsuits, exactly.

    I think that rather than ‘practically’ being an honor system – it is fully one. In fact I think of it more as a donation system. If a person wants to support an author they can go ahead and pay the suggested donation for a piece of work. If not they just get it for free.

    That’s why writers (and other content producers) are upset. It’s difficult to make a living off of the goodwill of strangers. Not impossible, but difficult.

  125. CRash: I checked the “rules,” and with us it’s evidently only parts of books (there’s a page limit, evidently) and/or out of print books allowed. So maybe that. Personally, I still don’t know anyone who does it, but I’m sure you’re right.

  126. College faculty still does this, by the way. Not sure how they’re dodging the lawsuits, exactly.

    Most college bookstores have systems set up to get permissions for this kind of excerpting, so it’s legal.

  127. Amazon realizes that if they don’t do this, someon else will, and *they* will be the ones cut out. There have already been a couple attempts (mostly on music,), so it’s only a matter of time before the legal and technical challenges are overcome.

    Whether or not this becomes a reality for e-books is anyone’s guess, but it’s hard to blame Amazon for positioning itself to be strategically prepared, should a real used digital goods marketplace becomea reality. Casting Amazon as a demon out ot destroy publishing is a bit too simplistic… What possible interest could Amazon have in destroying the supply?

  128. Far as I can tell, this would basically be a way for Amazon to undercut the royalty-bearing stream with a cheaper, non-royalty-bearing stream. What makes this different from the physical used book market is, with physical books, the number of items in combined new and used markets remains a constant. There’s no guarantee this would be the case for e-books. Between customers potentially copying e-books to sell as “used” and Amazon potentially doing the exact same thing (cf. transparency), there’s little to prevent the “used” e-book market from being absolutely unlimited. An Amazon customer would always have a choice between a “new” e-book and a “used” one, so why would they ever buy the higher priced “new” e-book?

    This wouldn’t be a problem if Amazon Amazon proposed that each “used” sale would send a royalty payment to the authors via their publishers. But what’s the chances of that happening?

    Given their past actions, I’m confident in interpreting this move as an attempt to kill publishers and make authors totally beholden to Amazon.

  129. @Rashkae

    Whether or not this becomes a reality for e-books is anyone’s guess, but it’s hard to blame Amazon for positioning itself to be strategically prepared, should a real used digital goods marketplace becomea reality. Casting Amazon as a demon out ot destroy publishing is a bit too simplistic… What possible interest could Amazon have in destroying the supply?

    The opportunity to become the supplier themselves. They’ve already started their own publishing house. Tighten the screws on the big six publishers while increasing your own footprint in publishing. Sounds like a plan to me.

  130. I really wish people would do the most basic thing before they comment: read the damn patent. I can’t see in these comments one person who says they have done so. John, I don’t see that you say you have read it, either. Go to this page: http://patft.uspto.gov/netahtml/PTO/srchnum.htm and enter patent number; 8,364,595. I would post the link but I would have to do all of that tiny URL mess. There are many references to the rights of the content owners and how this can only be done with specific permission from the owners. “The entity levying the fee may be the operator of the personalized data store server, owner of the digital object receiving a royalty, etc. “, “As described above, limits on moves, downloads, or other transfers helps enforce the rights of digital object owners or creators, and maintains scarcity in the electronic marketplace.”

    This is a four year old application that has just been approved. There is no guarantee that Amazon.com has any plans to do this just because they patented it. They may have patented it just to ensure nobody else would do it or give them a way to sue someone who does try it. Even if they do implement this, the automatic assumption that everyone makes that this is meant to screw over writers and publishers is just plain stupid. The patent clearly indicates that this will only happen when the proper permission exists from the content owners and just some basic common sense says that they would be sued into oblivion if they thought the could do this without permission from the content owners.

  131. “Most college bookstores have systems set up to get permissions for this kind of excerpting, so it’s legal.”

    Not only do they have systems to get permission, this is a major thrust by the textbook publishing industry. They know that they can make more money selling chapters than whole books. They also know that students are balking at spending $200-$300 for three books for a class and are, in many cases, just not buying them at all. If they can get $100 for the chapters of the three books that are actually needed, they stand to make more money.

  132. Charles, I was hoping that the person (not participating in this discussion) would post the current wording of the Amazon contract for Kindle Publishing. Allegedly, it would only take the addition of a couple of words buried in a paragraph, and the assumption of negative consent (which applies to all changes I’ve ever seen in Amazon changes to their contracts), and “specific permission” would be granted by the copyright owner, without the copyright owner ever realizing that they had given it.

  133. Maybe your suspicions are right, maybe the current compensation model won’t work any more, just as advances in technology have changed the compensation models in former times. You as a writer should feel lucky though, as at least your product is asked for even today, consider all those poor companies producing printing presses.

    When introducing ebooks they tried to take away ownership and thought this a mighty good idea, as everyone would need a license to read a book. Unfortunately, taking away ownership left little room for being a proud owner of a book anymore. Without people wanting to own a book, secondary market will probably be oversaturated.

    One Idea:: Put up lists of all buyers of your books on the net (yes, I believe privacy is nonsense). Sell your books for different prices, include the owner of the book and some nice words in the premium version and only the owner in the normal copy, leave out the name entirely on the cheap version, but even those who paid little will end up on the patronage list. No parasite will end up on this list, every owner opting for selling the book will be removed from the owners list and put on the former owners list. Copy protection can only be solved by social technology, dividing society into proud patrons of the arts and sniveling parasites looked down upon. You could give away unsigned ebooks for free, lifting the parasites up to commensal status, but you don’t need to buy into that.

    As a side note, I came here by a google search for your ebooks, which I am interested in since I read “Old Man’s War” which I got in the Humble Ebook Bundle. It has been a fine book, reading it made me want to read more of your works, which I will do.

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