Amazon Moves Closer to Selling Used Ebooks

In News by Dennis Abrams

By Dennis Abrams

Mediabistro reports that Amazon’s patent for a technology that allows customers to sell their previously read ebooks, audiobooks, music and movies in the same way that they can now sell print books, DVDs, and CDs, has been approved.

A seller could put their “used” Kindle title up for sale and another Kindle user could then purchase the title, which would remove the title from the seller’s library. According to an excerpt from the patent:

When the user no longer desires to retain the right to access the now-used digital content, the user may move the used digital content to another user’s personalized data store when permissible and the used digital content is deleted from the originating user’s personalized data store. When a digital object exceeds a threshold number of moves or downloads, the ability to move may be deemed impermissible and suspended or terminated. Additional or alternatively, a collection of objects may be assembled from individual digital objects stored in the personalized data stores of different users, and moved to a user’s personalized data store.

According to Mediabistro, a company named Lexink attempted the same thing a few years ago, but it “never took off because of licensing issues with publishers.”

At, Marcus Wohlsen remarked that “There is no such thing as a dog-eared e-book — each copy is forever perfect,” while adding that “a customer given the choice between a ‘new’ e-book and a less expensive ‘used’ e-book will buy the used copy every time. The extra expense of new won’t get you anything better.” So why, he asks, “would Amazon want to get into a business that would seem to undercut the business they’re already in?”

The answer, according to Bill Rosenblatt, a consultant and expert witness in digital content patent cases is relatively straightforward: he believes that while a digital resale marketplace won’t make Amazon a lot more money on books or music at least at first, but that it would “move much more of Amazon’s digital content business beyond the interference of publishers, just as publishers can’t dictate the terms of, for example, the sales of used physical books on Amazon.  Just as with physical books, publishers would only have a way — or get a cut — the first time a customer buys a copy of an ebook. The second, third and fourth sales of that ‘same’ e-book would be purely under Amazon’s control. And that, says Rosenblatt, could also give Amazon’s growing business as a publisher itself a boost.”

“If Amazon is allowed to get away with doing resale transactions with doing resale transactions without compensating publishers, then what they can do is say, ‘hey authors, sign with us and we’ll give you a piece of the resale. That could attract authors who might otherwise sign with traditional publishers.”

But Mike Shatzkin, a publishing veteran who works as a consultant expressed doubts that Amazon really wants to get into digital resales.

“I would not leap to the conclusion that the fact they have this patent means that they intend to go into this business.They may be patenting it to keep it off the market.”

Other experts, though, don’t believe that, arguing that Amazon might be making the first move in what some see as the inevitable battle over used digital content between Amazon, Google, eBay, and Facebook.

“There is no way as I read this that this could be used to block somebody else,” said Robert Aronoff, managing partner at Pluritas, a San Francisco-based investment bank that advises companies on intellectual property transactions, according to  “It’s just the evolution of the marketplace. You empower and develop a market which allows users to trade. It’s electronic eBay.”

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.