February 14, 2013

I try to be positive on this blog. I hope that the things I write are amusing or helpful or just fun in general. But sometimes things come to my attention that I feel strongly enough about and I need to say something out loud. And this is my place to do that.

The girls over at Cuddlebuggery brought this bit of news to my attention: Amazon wins patent to sell previously read ebooks.

As an aspiring writer, I find this pretty disturbing. I tweeted about it and I even sent an email to Amazon letting them know why I found it bothersome. I received the following response.

I’m sorry for the misunderstanding.

I understand that you’re not happy with the re-selling of eBook. Please understand that there is no option to sell the used kindle books by any seller on Amazon.

They asked for a link to the used book which is sold on Amazon so I replied.

This is in reply to an email I received from [Amazon rep]. While she assures me there is no option to sell used kindle books she seems to be unaware that Amazon recently won a patent for just the technology to resell used kindle books. [link]

I repeat my distaste for such a practice. If this were to go forward then Amazon would profit off the transaction fee – the seller would profit from selling a book they have been given access to but do not own. And the author and publisher who invested their time, money and effort into creating the work would get nothing. I find this incredibly disrespectful of Amazon who I have previously viewed as a company that supports authors and publishers and creating venues for their product to reach consumers. An ebook is different than a hard copy book because it can never truly be used. It doesn’t have bent covers or torn pages or handwriting in the margins. I assume even highlights would be removed. Therefore, why would anyone ever buy a new ebook when they can get a used one that is undamaged and cheaper? You would not only be cutting the author/publisher out of income from the sale of the used ebook – you’d be eliminating sales they might have gotten from new readers. I like Amazon a lot and prefer it when shopping for most things. But that practice, if instituted, would seriously tarnish my perspective of your company.

Imagine it – you’re a self-published author. You’ve worked hard on a novel that maybe hasn’t gotten traction with agents yet or maybe you prefer owning and distributing your own work. Either way, you’ve worked hard, written a novel and are now selling the ebook on Amazon.

You sell a few copies – maybe a hundred or so. Maybe more. But then the marketplace starts to shift. People have read your book and maybe liked it, maybe hated it, but didn’t love it enough to think they’ll ever read it again. So they list the ebook for sale on Amazon. Now you’re competing with Joe Smith to sell copies of your book. Someone can buy Joe’s “used” copy for $1 while yours is $1.99. Maybe Jill Doe wants to get rid of her copy and she lists it for $.99.

As long as there are used copies on the marketplace – why would anyone pay your $1.99?

Your story, your work and the only distribution method you’ve chosen is ebooks. And now random people are making money at selling your work. Which, admittedly, sort of happens in the current sale of used books on Amazon and book trade sites and other things. But, as I stated in my letter, there’s a difference between a used book and a used ebook. Maybe I’m ok paying $.75 for a used book with shelf wear and a few markings and a bent cover.
But maybe I want a new copy because I like pretty books in new condition (which, as a matter of fact, I personally do). I’d still choose to buy the book from the author/publisher because I want it shiny and new. But an ebook – well that’s always new and undamaged. There is no difference between the two but cost.

So, Amazon by allowing Joe Smith to sell his used copy would be stealing new sales from authors.

And this is true even if you’re traditionally published. There’s all sorts of reports and analysis of data showing how prevalent ebook sales are becoming in the total scheme of books sales. One example is that data suggests that ebooks accounted for 13-14% of all book sales in the UK last year (source).

Why would Amazon want to facilitate a way for that money to go to random people instead of to authors and publishers?

ETA: MediaShift looked at this same topic with many of the same points. But with insight from established authros, John Scalzi and Ayelet Waldman. They definitely articulate some points very well.

Posted in: Books ~

Be the first to hear about new releases, bonus content and more delivered straight to your inbox!

One response to “an open letter to Amazon

  1. You’re right, that IS worrisome… I mean, used e-books? Really? We might as well be giving the books away for free then (which is already mostly the case for indie authors, after all, what is $1 for a book?). It’s a sad thing that Amazon keeps trying to monopolize the market by making all KDP select books stick to the rule they should only be sold on Amazon and nowhere else, but this is taking things way too far. I don’t think publishing houses will accept this, to be honest.

Leave a Reply