Dutch Court Shutters Ebook Resale Site…For Now

In News by Edward Nawotka

Tom's Kabinet

A Dutch appeals court has forced the closure of online ebook reseller Tom Kabinet until the company can prove all books for sale were legally obtained.

By Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief

According to PC World, a Dutch appeals court has decided to forgo finalizing a decision on whether that it is legal to resell ebooks in the Netherlands, but has said it will allow sales to continue provided the platform selling them can prove that the books were legally obtained.

The Dutch ebook reseller Tom Kabinet opened in mid-2014 allowing users to upload files to their website and asking them to sign a form stating the books were legally obtained. It immediately came under fire from the Dutch Publishers Association (NUV), who filed a lawsuit requesting the site be shut down.

According to GigaOm, Tom Kabinet argued that “its legality was based 2012 ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in the case of UsedSoft v Oracle. That case had to do with the resale of licenses for downloadable software, but Tom Kabinet contended that the CJEU’s ruling in favor of resale extends to digital media such as ebooks as well.” The NUV disagreed, citing another case that suggested the ruling only apply to software.

Tom Kabinet won the initial case, with the court citing lack of clear evidence the earlier ruling did not cover ebooks. The NUV appealed and earlier this week won…sort of. Tom Kabinet was forced to shut down until such a time it can verify all ebooks sold on the site are legally obtained, but the court upheld the site’s business model. The NUV supported the move, but pointed out that numerous pirated ebooks are available on the site, including editions of books not traditionally available as an ebook.

While the very idea of reselling ebooks is not new, Tom Kabinet has tried to circumvent at least one objection to reselling ebooks: the platform promises to pay publishers and authors a form of royalty through its “Friends of Tom” program. We will have to wait and see if this works.

In the meantime, one only has to think back to the year 2000 when publishers vociferously fought against Amazon, who had introduced the sale of used books alongside new editions of the same title. The objection, at the time, was that the used titles would cannibalize the sale of the new books — a fear that may still be valid, but is all but impossible to confirm.

Today, as we all know, it isn’t used books that have cannibalized new print book sales — at least in fiction — it’s ebooks. Earlier this year, Tom Kabinet co-founder Laurens van Hoorn told GigaOm, that the site was able to offer ebooks at a rate of €3–8, well below the typical €14 ($19) price point.

So, will ebook reselling cannibalize new ebook sales? Yes, perhaps.

But what will be the most likely result of the emergence of a new model for ebook sales? More innovation (one hopes).

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.