Selling Those Used e-books

Have you heard of a company named ReDigi? It’s not exactly been in the headlines outside of music circles, but it has an interesting concept, and if you are the author of a book which is current in an e-book format you should be aware of what is going on now, and what may be going on later.
ReDigi functions as a used mp3 store. It will buy your used mp3s from you so long as you purchased them legally from e-Music or iTunes or Amazon or whoever (there is a way to determine whether each track was purchased legally, but since I am not fifteen years old I cannot explain it) and re-sell them to someone else. It does not need the permission of the artist or the artist’s label (if there is one) to do this. ReDigi, however, will pay royalties to the recording artist whose tracks are re-sold in this manner, so long as the artist belongs to ReDigi’s Artist Syndication Program (whatever that is). The person who sells the mp3 tracks to ReDigi supposedly no longer has the tracks on their iPod or computer or mp3 player afterward, (though I don’t know how ReDigi stops them from making and keeping a backup copy before they sell it), and ReDigi only sells the track once; in other words, it does not replicate it for sale among multiple buyers). And it’s entirely legal under what is called the “first sale doctrine,” which is how used book stores are able to open their doors for business, and how people can sell used books and CDs and CDs on Amazon and eBay, to name but two.
Fine. But you write books, as opposed to forming G chords. How does this affect you? ReDigi has stated outright that it is going to start selling used e-books —ones that were legally purchased by the original owner, of course — at some point in the future. Let’s assume that ReDigi is going to give authors the same deal that it is giving recording artists, and will pay each author a royalty on the resale of their book so long as said author participates in what I’ll call an “Author’s Syndication Program.”  Mind you, it isn’t going to be anywhere near what you would be getting under your agreement with your publisher, or your vendor, or whoever, but at least it would be something. Or if you are already selling your books for less than a dollar, and getting cents on the dollar for each sale, do you really want your books going for less than retail on the “used” market, with a drop in your royalty? There are both pros and cons here. How does this prospective scenario — it’s down the road, but it’s coming — look to you?

17 thoughts on “Selling Those Used e-books

  1. Joe, I don’t see this as any different that selling used books on Amazon or eBay. And frankly, any method by which a new reader gets my books is fine with me. In the long run, it generates more sales.

  2. I’m with Joe, but since I’m a recovering cynic, I wonder if there will be a way for anyone to buy off Amazon, resell a copy to someone else as a used ebook, then return to Amazon for a full refund. BwaahaaHaaaa!

    Have a good Saturday, Joe. Thx for the interesting post.

  3. Chick and ?Joe, I agree to the extent that anything that can generate more royalties for the creator is okay by me. The difference between reselling used physical copies and what ReDigi is advocating is ReDigi will pay royalties (under the mp3 model and if the author creator registers with them). Go for it.

    Jordan, as I understand this thing, once the original purchaser sells their copy, it will disappear off of their e-reader so they can’t return it to Amazon or whoever. I don’t think you can do that even now, once you’ve purchased a book, after a certain amount of time has passed. When you purchase a book at the Kindle store, a screen pops off giving you an opportunity to cancel the purchase, but once you’re past that you’ve bought it. Or is there some other way to return the book? Anyway, thank you to everyone who has commented thus far.

    • I’ve heard people who are determined to get around the DRM security can do it. I’ve seen many sites online that tell how. It’s a shame. Some authors have expressed views that pirate sites get books into the hands of new readers, but when I think of indie authors who spend their own money to create a product, it concerns me–for them.

  4. Thanks, Jordan. I checked on their return policy and it is quite generous. One can return a book purchased through the Kindle store within seven (7) days of purchase. My guess is that if someone did that more often than a fortnight ( 🙂 ) they might get their account pulled or something for abuse. However…I don’t think that someone buying a book from the Kindle store would be able to copy it, sell the original to ReDigi, and then turn the copy back in to Kindle for a refund, even if the buyer could hack the DRM. ReDigi won’t sell a hacked mp3 ( a policy which I assume would apply to e-books as well) and Amazon wouldn’t accept a hacked copy back. There is a way they are able to tell, electronically. My understanding is that it would be the digital equivalent of buying a book from a bookstore, photocopying it, and then trying to return the photocopied pages for a refund (isn’t that a funny image!).

    Jim, it is indeed possible to steal anything. Back in 1978, I had a paperboy (remember those) who was brilliant and somehow used the cable television system to hack into a bank’s computer network and steal a penny off of each account each month and transfer it to another account which he had set up. He got caught, but still…

  5. While I support the concept of the doctrine of first sale, I think that what ReDigi is doing is stretching it far beyond what was intended. At some point, I expect that ReDigi will be stopped. The thing is, if someone downloads a book to their Kindle and then sell the Kindle with that loaded on it, that seems to fit the doctrine, since they aren’t making a copy of the book but redistributing the book they have legally copied. For ReDigi to work, however, a copy must be made and even if for a few seconds there will be two copies in the control of two seperate people. One will be one the seller’s machine and one will be on the ReDigi server. When ReDigi sells a book, they will again have two copies. While the owner of the book is free to dispose of the book as they like, that does not mean they have a right to make a copy of the book as they like. I assume the courts will reject the notion that copies can be made without the copyright owner’s permission. If not, then legislation will likely be put in place to protect the ability of copyright holders to make money from their products.

  6. Interesting points, Tim. I’m not sure that two copies exist, however momentarily; I think that it’s more of a transformation whereby the original DRM-protected file becomes non-protected (ReDigi supposedly can do this), is transferred from seller to ReDigi, and then sold at ReDigi’s website. Of course, there is nothing to keep a consumer from making a copy of a CD and then selling the CD at a used CD store (which, of course, none of us would ever do!)but that is problematic with a DRM-protected e-book.

    As far as litigation goes, it’s happening already. Capitol Records filed suit in NY against ReDigi this year and sought an injunction against its doing business pending trial and judgment. The request for injunction was denied on the basis of the doctrine of first sale. Capitol used (in part) the same argument which you presented,and I actually think that it’s an excellent argument, the Court’s initial ruling notwithstanding. This will all play out over the next year or so and it will be interesting to watch.

    You’re welcome, Jordan! But I’m not a wizard; I just wear that pointy hat because it’s the only one that fits my head.

  7. I can’t see how something like this could honestly work out with eBooks. The thing with used paper books is that they wear out, get written in and otherwise show their age thereby limiting their resalability. With eBooks on the other hand no matter how chronologically new they are they are always in perfectly new quality, at least until formats change and the readers that read them can no longer read them.

    If this were to become a real issue I’d be, as in the case of the Mongols in my definition yesterday, gobsmacked.

  8. Basil, there’s kind of a cache attached to used books, at least for me in terms of used paperbacks of a certain age (1960s and older for me) that, as you indicated e-books won’t have. I think what ReDigi’s deal is that they buy “used” digital files at a fraction of what they original buyer paid for them and then sell that file at less than the original price but more than they paid the original buyer. If they’re going to succeed, they’re going to need a lot of volume, methinks.

  9. I never got why I can’t share my ebooks with people the way I do paper books. I buy it, I share it. It’s mine to share. Only way I can see it. After I read a book it just sits in digital heaven, unseen again.

  10. John, you have nailed what is probably my biggest gripe with e-books. I lend/give/share a lot of my physical books with people, particularly my adult sons. No-can-do with e-books unless you share your account or reader. I understand why; if one could copy e-books to friends the publishing industry would have the same result which the music industry did, and still does, which is wholesale piracy as folks would post the files on the internet for any and all to download. Still, I wonder if there could be a way to share.

  11. Gsendolyn (I apologize for the late, late response) the limit on copies borrowed is a provision of the publishing companies’ agreements with the libraries. If you don’t want to limit your copies borrowed that would be something you could arrange with the libraries. If you are letting the libraries have your books gratis the non-limitation shouldn’t be a problem for them. Good luck!

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