Is Monetizing the Used E-book Market the Next Big Opportunity?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

e-book and print books

By Edward Nawotka

A little more than ten years ago a furor arose in the book world when Amazon.com announced that it planned to sell both new and used editions of the same book on the same Web page. Publisher vehemently opposed what they saw as a move that could cannibalize new book sales and benefit the retailer. Previously, you could find used editions, but you had to troll for them on specialty sites or E-bay. Today, the practice of selling new and used together no longer raises eyebrows.

E-book readers would love to be able to buy and sell “used” e-books, but publishers and retailers may never let that happen.

Interestingly, Amazon sells many new editions at a lower price than the used ones. This may have to do with clever algorithmic computer calculations or simply the fact that used booksellers, overwhelmed with supply, simply post a book for sale once at a given price and — considering the vast amount of effort it might take — never adjust the price in line with the market.

Of course, used books exist are a tangible asset that one has in their possession. What of e-books — can they be sold on once they’ve been read? Not currently, no. Amazon, which is by far the dominant e-book retailer, has made it clear that the reader merely licenses the books, rather than owns them outright. This is, presumably the case for all the largest e-book distributors. Smaller distributors and publishers — some of whom offer DRM free e-books — will likely set their own terms and may in fact allow for the trade and frictionless dissemination of their e-books.

But what of turning this into a commercial transaction, of creating a secondary buy/sell market for used e-books? As outlined in our lead editorial today, BookSwim is moving in this direction with the launch of EBookFling, by offering a platform for trading e-books (and it is by no means the only platform — some have done it formally, such as ebooklendinglibrary.com and others informally on Facebook and elsewhere).

So tell us, is monetizing the used e-book market the next big opportunity . . . or no opportunity at all, since publishers and retailers will never allow it?

Let us know what you think in the comments.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

Edward Nawotka is the Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. A former foreign correspondent, he has covered the book business exclusively since 2000, serving as daily news editor for Publishers Weekly and columnist for Bloomberg News.