Ebook Resale

Will Authors Get Compensated for Used E-Book Sales?

12 March 2013

From PBS MediaShift:

On January 29, Amazon Technologies Inc. received a patent pertaining to the “secondary market for digital objects.” According to the patent abstract, the technology will enable Amazon customers to transfer — and presumably sell — e-books, MP3s, and other digital files to other customers. And, Apple too has filed for patents on the transfer of owned digital items.

The whole issue of used digital goods is a big one, with far-reaching implications for media in general, but music and publishing in particular.

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It’s still unclear however, if Amazon will actually use the patent. And if it does, how it might structure such a business. An Amazon representative declined to comment to MediaShift on the issue.

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Still, prominent authors have begun to debate what the potential sale of used e-books would mean for the publishing industry and the writers who depend on it. If used e-book sales follow the model of used print book sales, they will provide no revenue for authors and publishers. But digital copies don’t degrade the way printed books do, so the availability of used e-books could also remove readers’ incentive for buying new e-books.

In selling used digital music, ReDigi differs from other used goods marketplaces (including how Amazon deals with used physical goods) in that it pays both the copyright holder and the artist. Recently at the Tools of Change conference in New York, ReDigi CEO John Ossenmacher assured the book industry that the company would also compensate publishers and authors with e-book resales.

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Bill Rosenblatt, president of digital consulting firm Giant Steps Media, summed up at the Tools of Change conference the ramifications for authors by simply saying that they’re most likely to be the ones stuck in the middle. The winners will be the resellers, libraries and consumers. The losers will be conventional publishers and new retailers. But for authors, it could go either way.

“Perhaps the increased economic activity of digital resale will make up for any losses in new sales,” Rosenblatt said.

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John Scalzi wrote on his blog, “There’s a direct correlation between me getting paid to write novels, and me writing them.”

Do readers fail to appreciate that their book purchasing decisions affect whether or not their favorite writer can produce another book? Scalzi said this might be true.

“People don’t see creative people as they are in reality,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of everybody in a creative field is barely eking by. Also, when it comes right down to it, people like getting bargains. They’re not following the product chain back to the initial starting point.

“People are always going to want to get things inexpensively, so part of our job these days is to remind them there’s an actual human being on the other end of the equation, and that actual human being has rent to pay, and children they’d like to feed. The vast majority of writers are not like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling or Suzanne Collins. The average author makes a four-figure salary a year from their writing. If you don’t pay them, a lot of them will decide they can’t afford to write professionally anymore.”

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In a February 7 post on his blog, Scalzi wrote, “I would rather you pirate the e-book than buy it used.” When asked to explain this comment, he said, “If you’ve made the determination that you’re not going to pay me for the book, I don’t see why [Amazon CEO] Jeff Bezos or anyone else should get paid. I’m the guy who wrote it. Why should they get paid? All they are doing is giving you a space to sell that thing. They’re going to take a cut out of work that other people did.”

Link to the rest at PBS and thanks to Jeanne for the tip.

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