Second-Hand (E)Books

In the recent past, there was a huge debate among players in the lesfic publishing world about whether buying used books was an acceptable practice (for writers, anyway). The argument for used books was that it allowed people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford them to buy books. The argument against them was that it took money out of writers’ pockets and the only ones to make a profit are the re-sellers.

And until now, the loss of revenue from ebooks was mainly due to piracy.

Well, people, now you can add ebooks to the second-hand book controversy.

According to Jenny Shank, in her article “Will Authors Get Compensated for Used E-Book Sales?” HERE, Amazon has received a patent for technology that will allow them to re-sell ebooks and other digital products.

This does not bode well for writers. Unlike physical books, an original digital file can be retained and endless copies can be made and resold. Once a print book is sold, it’s gone.

The writers interviewed for the article argue point out that by purchasing used ebooks, you will be ensuring that only big-ticket authors (and the independently wealthy) will be able to continue writing. This is the same argument many writers have had against used print books. Used book stores have been around practically since Gutenberg printed his Bible, but this used e-book market will be an entirely different ballgame.

Writer John Scalzi wrote:

“People are always going to want to get things inexpensively, so part of our job these days is to remind them there’s an actual human being on the other end of the equation, and that actual human being has rent to pay, and children they’d like to feed. The vast majority of writers are not like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling or Suzanne Collins. The average author makes a four-figure salary a year from their writing. If you don’t pay them, a lot of them will decide they can’t afford to write professionally anymore.”

Scalzi also stated on his blog that he’d rather people pirate his e-book than buy it used, explaining in this article that if he’s not going to get any money from a resale, then why should Jeff Bezoz (Amazon CEO) or anyone else get money?

The music world has already been battling this issue and it’s been a long, hard, uphill struggle. The publishing world is following in its path and I don’t think it will be any more successful and curtailing the reselling of ebooks than it’s been at curtailing piracy.

Read the full article HERE. It’s quite an eye-opener.


  1. I have mixed feelings about this issue. When you buy a used print book, you get something that’s been handled, read, something that’s not new. An e-book is a different animal. It’s always “new.” It doesn’t get old or used. I think there’s a potential class action lawsuit against Amazon or any other seller who sells used e-books, because the person who bought that “used” e-book is a customer for the “new” e-book. On the other hand, if I buy an e-book and want to sell it to someone else, I should be able to do that. I wouldn’t have access to it anymore. I would have to relinquish that, but I would get the money from the sale, not an intermediary like Amazon who also sells “new” e-books. The law is going to have to evolve in this regard.

    But there’s another way to look at this. Authors want to get new readers. The more new readers you have, the more people who will want your next book, and the one after that. Theoretically, having people lend others e-books, or sell their used e-books creates more customers/more readers for all of your work. So the mere fact that an e-book is being resold actually benefits the author. The new reader will tell other readers, some of whom will buy your e-books (and future titles). Still, it smacks of a conflict of interest (and possibly breach of contract) for Amazon to be in the used e-book business.

    The most important thing authors can do is price their e-books low enough to encourage people to buy a new book, especially if they have or plan to have other titles available. Would you rather sell 1,000 copies at $2.99, or 500 copies at $9.99? It’s not a matter of simple math. Yes, you’ll make more money on the 500 copies. But those extra 500 purchasers will tell other people, who will also buy your book, so soon your sales will increase exponentially, assuming you have a good book. I went to a seminar on self-publishing, and the sweet spot for pricing is between $2.99 and $5.99 per copy. The lower you price it, the more likely someone will buy it on a whim, and if they like it, you’re off and running.


    • It’s a very complicated issue. As you point out, no matter what decisions you make as an author, you take chances and the results can go either way. You can be proactive in your marketing decision, but in the end, the results will hinge on a whole lot of variables. It’s a coin toss. And it is a lot of theory.


    • The obvious problem is that, why would readers buy a new eBook when they can wait and buy a used eBook? They will just wait it out for any new releases and not buy it until it is available as a used eBook. And what the hell makes an eBook “used?” It is an evil plot and shame on Amazon for even entertaining it. So, don’t buy on Amazon. Authors can sell their eBooks on their own web sites if Amazon event tries something so blatantly anti-author.


      • Why is it an evil plot and why shame on Amazon when, to my understanding, all that has been done is a patent filed? Someone would have filed such a patent eventually. I can’t blame Amazon for wanting to be the one. It could be that Amazon simply wants the patent so another company can’t do what people are conjecturing (accusing) Amazon of wanting to do. I have also, as I said earlier, read some posts in which it’s possible for authors (or publishers, and then authors indirectly) to get a share of any sales proceeds. Given a Big Six author, with their reputedly low royalty rates, such a percentage might actually be higher than what he or she would get through the publisher with a first-time sale. (Amazon’s way of showing more authors the so-called light.)

        Could be Amazon simply wants the patent just to have it. Or worst fears could come true and Amazon wants the patent to “force” Big Six publishers to price ebooks more in the range of $6.99 rather than $12.99ish (which in turn gives indies more competition). I am withholding judgment until I see how (or if) this is going to work. Given the reception of this used ebooks idea, Amazon has to know that what people are accusing it of plotting is going to alienate a lot of people. Maybe I’m naive, but as both a “smarts” and practical matter, I don’t see Amazon doing a straight-out selling of used ebooks. Amazon doing a selling while compensating the copyright holder with, say, 20 percent? Yeah, maaaaybe I could see that.

        The bottom line is, we don’t know Amazon’s motivations.


      • Hi Q,

        I’ve always been one of Amazon’s best supporters and cheerleaders, but the very idea of used eBooks just doesn’t bode we’ll. No one has been been able to tell me what a “used eBook” is. I think of all the troubles the music industry has experienced. All I’m saying is we can’t always put absolute trust on one monopoly. Be ever watchful and question. For me, until I hear otherwise, “used eBook” doesn’t sound peachy.


      • I’m with you that “used ebook” sounds like an impossibility. Where are the Cheeto stains? (Or in my case, Dorito and frappy stains.) Still, someone was bound to come up with this idea sooner or later. I can only hope Amazon uses its power wisely. A lot of other companies wouldn’t. Maybe Amazon will. Time will tell.


  2. I’ve heard a few things on this, and the biggest message, the one that resonates with me most, is this: there’s no use panicking or fretting until we know what Amazon plans to do, if anything. I have also heard that IF Amazon does anything, it’s a possibility the company will give authors a share of the sale proceeds.


    • Extremely pleased at the court decision. Score one for creators. A good word of advice to authors is to make paper editions of eBooks available for those readers who like to collect and own paper books. That may be where everything settles once the kerfuffle is over and done with. New technology. New landscape. Should be interested to keep up with. Thanks for the update, R.G.


  3. One point we should keep in mind is that the used books market for print books cannot be used for the used eBook fiasco. When a reader buys a print book, the sale is made and the author gets the royalty. There are no losses for the initial sale. Even if that reader sells the book as a used book. Sure, it means not getting the royalty for the used sale, but the author got her royalty for that sold copy.

    With an eBook that is returned, the reader who purchased it gets a full refund and Amazon takes that sale from the author. In other words, the author loses that sale. So, you see it is a totally different beast. One that is not author friendly and not at all like print used book sales.


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