A Used Market in eBooks Sounds Silly But Is It Actually A Move in the Right Direction?

A recent article on Singularity Hub explains Amazon’s plans to create a market for pre-owned eBooks:

“The US Patent and Trademark Office recently awarded Amazon a patent titled Secondary Market For Digital Objects, wherein the mega-retailer describes a marketplace for the transfer of used digital objects, whether ebooks, audio, images, video, and even apps. As stated in the patent, “transfers may include a sale, a rental, a gift, a loan, a trade, etc. Amazon already has a thriving marketplace for used physical objects, but this signals the first time a major online retailer intends to introduce a means to resell digital objects.”

My first response was to laugh. This seems like a particularly bizarre example of artificial scarcity. Obviously digital products do not degrade and can be copied endlessly without any loss in quality. So the idea of creating a secondary market feels like a particularly tortured attempt to drag limitations from the physical world into the digital world unnecessarily.

However, upon reflection I realized this may actually be a good thing. After all, the worse form of artificial scarcity is what we have today. The current system of eBooks, whereby they are tied to your single Amazon account and are not transferrable or re-sellable at all, is far more limiting. By allowing the reselling of eBooks, Amazon is actually making books less scarce, and giving consumers more freedom to control their own digital objects. In addition, this version of artificial scarcity at least has the potential to create new business models and ways for ordinary people to make money.

So is it silly? Yes. But is it also an incremental move in the right direction? Very possibly.

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