On Selling Used Ebooks

used ebooks amazon

Here’s some potentially-interesting news, from Gizmodo: “Amazon Has a Patent to Sell Used Ebooks.”

What’s noteworthy about the used ebook patent is that it sounds like a step towards solidifying the tricky issue of what we do with digital objects that we “own.” Think about it — what exactly do most of us do with ebooks that we’ve finished reading? Not much, probably. Sure, Amazon allows Kindle lending but the system is imperfect at best.

Which isn’t of course to say that the used ebook market is imminent (Gizmodo: “Of course many patents never amount to anything at all and are moves to secure intellectual property before another company does”). It is somewhat telling that the secondary market for the tangible, hardware e-reading devices is more clearly defined than the dearth of options for the more-ephemeral ebooks.

Also, Publishers Weekly (“Amazon Poised to Sell Used E-Books”) mentions ReDigi and their efforts to create a used digital content marketplace (along with the copyright issues hindering those efforts). Never heard of ReDigi before but, interesting.

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For another interesting perspective, check out FutureBook.net (” ‘Ere, mate, wanna buy a second hand ebook? “) –

“What’s actually happening, of course, is not the transfer of a physical object, but the transfer of access rights or data. Data don’t depreciate, so there’s no real reason to discount the product because it’s been used. The straight transfer is therefore rather dull: person A yields it to person B for the same amount he or she paid for it, and person B gets the file via bluetooth or similar rather than via Whispernet or broadband download. Um. No measurable benefit to anyone. Or, yes, you’d end up with a market where people would discount in order to make some money back, and ultimately drive down the value of the book. Not great news.”


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I run the ThinkLab at the University of Cambridge, and research digital habits, productivity, and wellbeing.

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