How many niches can eBooks fill out?

by on February 8, 2013 at 7:26 am in Books | Permalink

I’m not sure this will work, but I suppose we will see:

Amazon’s business model has long been dependent on resellers of used books and other merchandise. But a U.S. patent that Amazon Technologies in Reno, Nev., received last week indicates that the mega-retailer has its sights on digital resale, including used e-books and audio downloads. 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.

Here is a bit more, and for the pointer I thank Chaim Katz.  And here is news of a new Texas library that will offer digital books only.

prior_approval February 8, 2013 at 7:38 am

‘Amazon’s business model has long been dependent on resellers of used books and other merchandise.’

It sounds like the author of this passage has never heard of the cloud – or Amazon’s version of it, S3. Amazon resells all kinds of things, after all. Including its own unused capacity.

Rich Berger February 8, 2013 at 8:48 am

If Amazon could come to an agreement with publishers/authors to allow limited sharing of ebooks (what people often do with physical copies) it would be helpful. Furthermore, I would be happy to pay a subscription fee, a la Rhapsody, to be able to take ebooks out of a digital library. Here in Northern NJ, the Bergen County Cooperative Library System lends out ebooks. They are free, but the selection is sparse and popular titles have a long waiting list.

Marie February 8, 2013 at 10:26 am

Doesn’t signing up for Prime let you borrow books? I just got my kindle and haven’t done it yet, but I’ve noticed the “borrow this book for free with Amazon Prime” button on something.

Will February 8, 2013 at 10:29 am

It’s a bit of a farce, you can only check out 1 book every month and the selection is pretty limited.

Joe Torben February 8, 2013 at 5:09 pm

I agree. Spotify has shown how this model could work. A fixed monthly fee ($10-$15 for books?), and you can read however much you like. It’s all rented, so when you stop paying, you lose access to everything you have read. I’d go for that, and there are very, very few books I’d prefer to buy. I read books once, and I figure most people do that. (And if you want to reread a book, you can of course do that if you continue to pay.)

There must be a good reason Amazon hasn’t implemented this yet. I can’t for the life of me figure out why.

dan1111 February 8, 2013 at 8:54 am

Amazon received a patent on digital resales of books. That is not proof that Amazon is going to enter the digital resale market (as the article assumes). Instead, it could be that Amazon just wants to prevent a digital resale market from existing.

The main problem I see with reselling digital content is that the “used” content is exactly identical to the original. That means that there will be no way to maintain a lower price for the “used” content. Lots of “used” copies of a book available would have to lower the price of a new copy as well. The overall effect of this is not clear. A book’s price would probably start off high when it was new, then drop as more and more secondhand copies became available. On the other hand, best-sellers might not have such a huge peak in sales, if people wait for the price to drop rather than buying immediately. The equilibrium of all this is not clear.

prior_approval February 8, 2013 at 9:04 am

‘Amazon received a patent on digital resales of books.’

And the rest of the world is laughing, just like with software patents – which are not considered valid in the EU, for example.

‘The main problem I see with reselling digital content is that the “used” content is exactly identical to the original.’

You mean when I buy a used CD or book, its contents is not actually identical? Possibly, we have different defintions of what ‘identical’ means.

dan1111 February 8, 2013 at 9:21 am

The patents may not be valid in the EU, but I doubt the reselling would be legal either, due to differing copyright laws.

Both books and CDs are subject to wear and tear. This does make a significant difference over time. Even when it does not, it makes a big psychological difference to many people that they are buying a brand new item. This distinction disappears entirely with digital resale.

prior_approval February 8, 2013 at 10:40 am

‘Both books and CDs are subject to wear and tear.’

None of my ripped to FLAC CDs nor Baen acquired E-books are subject to wear and tear (oh, and by the way – the Baen freely distributable CDs are still available at baencd.thefifthimperium.com )

Chris Purnell February 8, 2013 at 11:51 am

‘Both books and cd’s are subject to wear and tear.’

They are also subject to rampant piracy.

prior_approval February 8, 2013 at 12:47 pm

‘They are also subject to rampant piracy.’

Neither my FLAC CDs nor my Baen CDs are pirated. But yes, digital data can be effortlessly copied. Welcome to the digital world, ca. the invention of the PC/Internet.

Dan Weber February 8, 2013 at 3:10 pm

A third-party market for resale of e-goods will completely destroy the e-good market. “Oh, yeah, I deleted this e-book off my computer, sure I did, now sell it for me.” It makes sense that Amazon would want to put a spanner in any plans for that, although the legislature wouldn’t let it happen even Amazon did nothing.

dan1111 February 9, 2013 at 3:38 am

Amazon maintains control over the availability of e-content they sell to you. If you resell a book to them, they will remove it from availability on all of your devices.

Of course, there are probably ways to thwart this. However, only a small percentage of people are willing and able to do so (Kindle books are selling quite well, despite the fact that lots of pirated content is currently available).

john personna February 8, 2013 at 9:42 am

A local library, as a local place with physical books, has always made sense to me. As soon as you go to e-books though, I’m not sure what place has to do with it. You only need one national (or even international) e-book library, online. Of course, we should cynically expect decades of transition as local libraries negotiate thousands of separate e-book lending contracts …

Andromeda February 8, 2013 at 10:16 am

Local libraries are rarely the ones involved in the contract negotiations for ebooks; a small number of aggregators do most of the negotiation. I do not see most publishers being interested any time soon in negotiating the sorts of contracts that would lead to national lending (much less international, given the territorial rights issues involved) — quite the opposite, really.

(Yes, I’m a librarian, and I work for a startup involved with ebooks, rights licensing, Creative Commons, et cetera: https://unglue.it . I basically eat sleep and breathe this stuff.)

john pesonna February 8, 2013 at 10:27 am

A smaller mess then. I’m not sure what a good national policy would look like, but I’d like medium length (50 years?) copyright for physical books, and then easy transition to public domain e-books. On new e-books I applaud those who produce for wide distribution of course (PD, CC) but with short term wouldn’t be too concerned about tighter licenses. They’d be over in the fullness of time. Of course, if we retain long (or longer) copyright, the future is going to be quite a closed place.

RZ0 February 8, 2013 at 10:03 am

From the comment section of the linked Publishers Weekly article:
“This is a tempest in a teapot– or a mountain being made out of a molehill; pick your metaphor.

“First, ReDigi is in the middle of litigation, the outcome of which is quite uncertain (and the smart money is on them losing.)

“Second, remember, our friends at Amazon have made it QUITE clear that when a user makes a purchase in the Kindle store, they are NOT buying a book/song/whatever– they are purchasing a license to use that content on a device that they own. The Kindle store terms of service make this perfectly clear: “Kindle Content is licensed, not sold, to you by the Content Provider.” If there is no sale, there can be no resale. http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=hp_200699130_storeTOU1?nodeId=201014950

Eli February 8, 2013 at 2:27 pm

I think this is the reason why they’d want a resale market for licenses. The less I feel a sense of ownership when I buy an ebook, the less likely I am to read on my Kindle and the more likely I am to just crack their encryption or pirate it.

I think these attempts to make information act like physical objects is misguided, but if it’s going to work for them, it can’t be *worse* than paperback.

Andromeda February 8, 2013 at 10:14 am

That Texas library *believes* it will offer ebooks only, but from what I’ve seen of their plans, and what I know from actual librarians, I don’t think that library’s going to happen — at least, not as planned and not anywhere near scheduled. They seem to think that libraries can buy ebooks (frequently untrue; most major publishers won’t sell ebooks to libraries) and that they can buy them for consumer prices (not remotely true; see, e.g., http://www.infodocket.com/2013/02/04/new-douglas-county-libraries-releases-february-2013-bookebook-price-comparison-report/ ). And that doesn’t even get into the fact that no one can *buy* ebooks anyway, just license them (with a handful of exceptions) and the license terms don’t reflect library use cases. (For instance, they plan to lend ereaders, but you can’t just own a stable of ebooks and then load whichever ebook the patron wants on whichever device is available; each ebook is limited to a certain number of devices, moving them is not seamless, and the cataloging problems you set yourself up for are hellish, particularly since legacy software isn’t set up to deal.)

tl;dr I don’t think they talked to any actual librarians in setting up this plan, and it’s going to bite them.

john personna February 8, 2013 at 11:19 am

I’d like to see ebooks sent to the Library of Congress, put under a time lock, and then have them pop out into the public domain in 50 years.

The only problem with that is that it is rather arbitrarily about “books.” The Internet Archive is doing something similar … something that probably should have been the LOC’s job.

Douglas Knight February 8, 2013 at 2:46 pm

Where did you see their plans? The article that Tyler linked doesn’t have any of those misconceptions, but sounds like all the actually existing library ebook systems. It’s just about centralizing ebooks across a county, which is pretty common.

Andromeda February 8, 2013 at 8:28 pm

I haven’t seen detailed plans, but reading between the lines of earlier NPR and (especially) local press coverage — the amount they’ve budgeted doesn’t match the number of books they intend to buy (unless you assume near-consumer pricing, which would imply that they don’t know anything about library ebooks, which is not a good sign), the things they hypothesize about staffing and workflow just don’t seem to match up with what I’ve heard from librarians with ebook programs, and none of the people involved appear to be librarians.

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