The Nameless Horror

One Ebook, Slightly Used

So the world has learned that Amazon is thinking of allowing ebook reselling. The lunacy of the term “used” in conjunction with a non-degrading (and limitlessly copiable) digital product is summed up nicely by Chuck over here and I won’t retread that.

There are more details about the application via ReDigi (pinch of salt alert: yellow) over here, but the short of it is that this seems to be a delete original/new owner gets a copy instead technology. Ignore the hilarious guff later in the press release in which ReDigi desperately fling business jargon in a bid to make it seem like what they do is any different.

Points!

  • Firstly, as Gareth Skarka points out in the comments at Wendig’s den of iniquity, this is just a patent application. Patent =/= plan to use. Not necessarily.

  • Secondly, it may be that the ReDigi suit finds for the record company, in which case similar models for books would rather be dead in the legal water. However, transfer of “used” software licenses between users has - Wikipedia tells me - been ruled legal in the EU.

  • Thirdly, assuming (pinch of salt alert: red) that Amazon were to use a “check book not on account still” system (“only resell confirmed Amazon purchases” if you like), the original user inevitably retaining a copy for themselves - because, let’s face it, that’ll happen - means an effective halving of your market. Original person buys a copy. Keeps it. Sells a copy of that copy to someone else who you don’t then sell to. This… yeah, I can’t really get too worked up over that, to be honest. If they don’t use such a system, all bets are off. But I think they’d have to.

  • Fourthly, no way would they be the only people doing it, mind. If copy-selling becomes A Thing, there will be other companies doing it.

  • Fifthly, I rather like to think of people owning ebooks they buy, rather than renting them. Consequently, just as I can’t stop you selling your hardcopy books on ebay or giving them to a charity shop, I shouldn’t want to stop you doing the same with your ebooks, just on principle. I wouldn’t want you setting up a mass distribution system to make money from duplicates, because that’s clearly cheating, but trading in your single copy… eh, whatever.

  • Sixthly, such a thing would inevitably see more publishers cling desperately to DRM in a bid to stop copied copies leaking out, and that’s only a good thing for Amazon (et al.) and a bad thing for everyone else.

Conclusions!

And here we come to the big “who gives a shit because…” point: this probably won’t make a significant fig of difference from an author’s earnings point of view, because anything worth copying and selling is probably already available piratically, definitely mass-distributed, and the same arguments about dealing with - or embracing/ignoring/accepting/whatever - piracy more or less apply.

Could such a market devalue books? What, more than Sony and its 20p editions? Could it dent customer base/royalties more than anyone who’s so inclined already being able to get just about anything for free?

It looks like a dick move by everyone involved on the surface, but on principle, if you own a thing, you should be able to do with it as you want, and that includes reselling it. If there’s a lock on unscrupulous copying-for-money, fine. If there’s not, ReDigi, Amazon et al. are idiots and I’d rather give all my shit to the Pirate Bay because at least no one’s making a cheaty dime out of it.

Final question: Is there anything right now stopping you, gentle reader, from offering to email a copy of The Best Book Ever by Some Writer that you’ve got to a mate in return for a quid via Paypal or a pint after work? Because no, no there’s not.

Aside from legitimising and facilitating the process, what, then, does this ultimately change?