Selling Used E-books on Amazon?

According to Publisher’s Weekly, Amazon is developing a mechanism for reselling digital media, which includes digital music and e-books. I was very surprised to hear this news, but it makes a lot of sense for Amazon. The secondary market is an integral part of their business model, and digital content continues to grow. Once again, Amazon proves its ability to stay ahead of consumer expectations. This could be big.

This news explains some of Amazon’s actions over the last year or so. The Kindle Owners’ Lending Library is probably Amazon perfecting the technology for delivering and then removing e-books from customers on a large scale. Also Amazon recently unveiled the AutoRip program and added digital versions of albums to customers’ Cloud Player. Now that customers have the digital versions in their Cloud Player, they can sell those albums when the secondary market opens up. These developments give customers options, and customers like options.

But what will it do to publishers of digital content? I’m sure Amazon has pondered this question, but they know that their bread is buttered by the consumer, not the producer. Some content creators and publishers are probably frothing at the mouth because of this news. Many will feel that this is merely more evidence of Amazon’s contempt for publishers.

I, however, don’t think this will be a bad development for the book publishing industry. For one thing, it should drive up the price of an e-book. If a customer can resell an e-book, that e-book is automatically worth more. It also could drive up sales of e-books. The ability to resell an e-book could help some wavering customers make the decision to purchase. Things will change, but I don’t think the big publishing houses would suffer too much.

A secondary market for e-books, however, would greatly affect a different aspect of the digital revolution. Amazon’s kindle has created a cottage industry of authors who crank out genre fiction at an incredible rate. They self-publish these novels on Amazon and only charge ninety-nine cents per novel. Since these novels are so cheap, they sell thousands of copies and no one actually cares how good they are. They provide a cheap fix for genre lovers, but they are usually poorly crafted stories. These novels are entirely disposable, and the people who buy them only intend to read them once. A secondary market would kill this cottage industry because within a week of buying the ninety-nine cent novel, the buyer would turn around and sell it to the next genre lover for ten cents and the author would get nothing. The once lucrative business model supporting mediocre writing would evaporate.

I, for one, welcome this change. A secondary market for e-books would force authors to write better stories. Genre lovers could still get the cheap fix in the secondary market, but the overall quality of the novels would skyrocket. Our American society produces too many disposable goods; let’s hasten the demise of disposable fiction.

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