Is a Used eBook Store in the Future?

Recently, Amazon patented a way to sell “used” ebooks, music, videos, apps and other “digital objects.” The marketplace described in the patent would let such exchanges take place by cutting off the seller’s access to a piece of digital content once the buyer paid.

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Here’s how Amazon has sketched out the way a used ebook store would work in the patent. The proposed used marketplace would work similarly to Amazon’s Kindle ebook lending process. Currently if a publisher grants Amazon the rights, when a Kindle customer “buys” a book, they have the option to loan the access rights to that digital file to friends or family that are also Kindle users. While the book is on loan, the original owner of the book is unable to access the ebook on any Kindle device. It’s still on those devices, but the access rights to the book have been transferred temporarily to the person with the loaned ebook.

Amazon’s proposed used digital marketplace would take that one step further. Instead of loaning the access rights of an ebook, music file, video or application, in exchange for some cash, the original owner of the digital file would transfer the rights to use that file to another party permanently.

Following Amazon’s lead, Apple has now also filed a patent application to create a used marketplace for digital goods also.

Interestingly, both companies appear to have built in ways that publishers (and authors) will benefit from the sales of used digital goods. It appears both Amazon and Apple might give a decreasing percent of the sale to the publisher each time a used digital book is sold (based on the number of times it has changed hands).

One obstacle to a used digital good store is a current court case involving ReDigi and Capitol Records around copyright infringement. ReDigi, a company in beta testing, lets people buy and sell all kinds of copyrighted digital content. ReDigi uses a verification process to determine whether a given digital item has been legally downloaded and can be resold, allowing only the original good to be sold—much like reselling a used physical book or CD. In addition, ReDigi already uses the model of paying copyright holders when it sells a pre-owned digital file.

I suspect that neither Amazon nor Apple will move forward with a used ebook store until the issue is settled for ReDigi.

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