The Word on Used eBooks

You walk around the old marketplace, through antique stores and old stacks of records, looking, hopefully, for that one store where you’ll be able to enter entirely new worlds. Yes, you’ve found it! The used eBookstore.

Used eBooks? As outrageous as that sounds, if a new ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union is followed by similar rulings, a used eBook could soon be coming your way. Of course, that all depends on how eBook publishers deal with this paradigm.

When you buy an eBook, you buy the license to use that file. The ruling declares that you have the right to resell that license to a third party, but only if you cease to use that file (and not make duplicates of it). Whether eBooks will now come with the ability to be resold, or if new software will create a whole market of secondhand books, remains to be seen. But if this ruling gains traction, it appears that publishers will at least have to make this option available. Or not — it’s also quite possible that a publisher would slap on a “no resale” protection to their eBooks.

As a writer, does it make sense to allow your eBook to be resold? You don’t make any money on a resale (at least not traditional ones), and it’s possible your eBook could just be traded around until it’s sold for mere pennies. Still, it never seemed like used bookstores were to be the downfall of the publishing industry in the pre-digital days.

However, Digital Book World paints a very positive picture of this new development:

“If eBooks could be easily resold by readers, the effects on the growing e-book industry would be great. Used eBookstores could pop up; new, exotic forms of digital rights management (DRM) software could be developed; and the price of eBooks, facing upward pressure from their new-found resale value and downward pressure from a used book market, could change.”

Do you think the idea of a used eBook is a good one? As a writer, will you offer the option for used copies of your eBook to be resold? Is this a good alternative to piracy?

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10 Comments

  1. It’s a rough one. I have found that allowing borrowing on Kindle has actually helped sales. I would imagine allowing used ebook sales would be the same as long as I got a partial royalty of some kind.

    It’ll be interesting to see where this all goes. Amazon pays for the borrowing out of their marketing budget (I think). Most cannot afford that.

  2. Morgan, Lulu

    @David – Great comment, David. Thanks!

  3. It IS a good alternative to outright piracy. AND, since my eBooks anyway, most of them, are CHEAP to begin with, I just have to look at the fact that I made something on the initial offering and that every person who repurposes my eBook will become familiar with my books and seek me out to catch something new in my library of offerings. Same principle as applies to sales of used paperbacks, I suppose. If in fact this occurs, I WILL raise my eBook prices.

  4. I don’t know how I feel about this. I’m dealing with people who have stolen my work and put it up for people to read for free. I have lost over $14,000 in sales due to somebody just putting it out there for free, so while this wouldn’t be exactly the same scenario it kind of feels like it to me. Yes, the number is accurate because the number of downloads with what I would have made if those books had sold add up to $14,000 and some change. However, I like Earl Chessher’s POV in that I could just raise the ebook prices to try to compensate for all the giveaways. Perhaps this is why traditional publishing houses charge so much for ebooks. Maybe they have factored in all the issues that could happen and came up with a high price to compensate for the loss.

  5. I don’t think this is a good idea. As a writer, I think ebooks are cheap enough already that it’s reasonable to expect people to pay for what they read. As a reader, I think books have never been better value, and that there’s no reason to expect further discounts or freebies when ebooks already cost less than most second-hand print books here in Australia (where I live).

    There’s no reason to expect that writers should be doing this for charity: we need to be paid well so that we can support ourselves and devote time to our craft. In no other creative industry, I believe, are there such low expectations of what access to the work should cost. Books are great value whether they can be resold or not.

  6. This is an interesting topic. Though it may seem not good since writers will be having lost sales on their own books given that others are reselling their ebooks and earning their income. Still, increasing the price of an ebook is one benefit any writer should have in case this happens. This will somehow compensate their hard work in coming up with a good book to resell.

  7. John Stephens

    This will severely harm publishers and authors. “Used” ebooks are not really used. Used books become worn, so many people prefer new, pristine books. Ebooks are electronic code that doesn’t change, so a so-called used ebook would be identical to a new one. No doubt Amazon will keep one file for a particular book and distribute copies of that as both the new and used ebooks. It probably won’t be a person’s particular copy of the code that is redistributed, just their license or ownership.

    With new and used ebooks being identical files, there will be no incentive to buy new ebooks. Why buy a new ebook for $10 when you can get an identical one for $5? As long as there is a used one available, people will buy that and new book sales will drop to zero.

    For a publisher, a book may sell well at first, but sales will drop precipitously as used ones become available. Eventually there will be enough used ones that new sales will stop, even though the book will still be selling like hotcakes. Amazon will probably make the same percentage. It’s publishers and authors who will lose out.

    Amazon has been trying to gain control of the publishing industry for quite some time and they have severely damaged it already. This is just another of a long list of predatory practices they’re using. Amazon is now a publisher and no doubt it intends to be the only one.

    From what I’ve seen, author advances have dropped to about ten percent of what they were in the 1990s, while royalty percentages are half what they were. Amazon is squeezing the publishers even harder now and will probably figure out new ways of applying pressure. All this is extremely bad for authors.

    This so-called “used ebook” thing might end up hurting publishers’ sales so badly that perhaps they’ll finally be forced to boycott Amazon . . . something that in hindsight they should have done long ago.

  8. jim

    Paper books are sold for one penny and up. They seem to last decades. Ebooks will not last that long due to format obsolescence’s. The more people starting reading ebooks, the faster that market will grow. Sure you lose a little in the beginning but make up in volume. The technology will change so fast that epub and mobi wont work on the next generation of devices.

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  1. […] [124] Lulu Blog – “The Word on Used eBooks” by Max Rivlin-Nadler 26/07/2012, available at http://www.lulu.com/blog/2012/07/used-ebooks/. […]

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