A month ago, Amazon obtained a patent that would make it possible for people to sell used e-books and other digital content. I spoke to two prominent authors, Ayelet Waldman and John Scalzi, about what this would mean.
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.
While several companies have entered the fray, ReDigi is already reselling digital music and recently announced it would also sell e-books. In fact, ReDigi is in court right now with Capitol Records, which is seeking to shut the digital marketplace down, claiming copyright infringement.
As the music and publishing industries wait for a decision in that case, the news that Amazon had applied for a patent sent another ripple. While ReDigi and others could certainly change the game themselves, if a player as big as Amazon gets into the used digital content business, the changes could come at lightning speed.
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.
WILL AUTHORS BE COMPENSATED?
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.
So far, though, it’s the Amazon patent that has authors worried.
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, as quoted in Publishers Weekly.
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