Nostalgia City Mysteries

Mark S. Bacon

Tag Archives: used ebooks

Ebooks and book prices – changes        to come, but what and when?

In the weeks since the announcement of patents by Apple and Amazon for systems to sell “used” ebooks, online writers weighed in decrying the development or criticizing the predictors of gloom.

Writing in Magellan Media, Brian O’Leary takes exception to comments by authors who said writers’ incomes would plummet as ebook prices nosed down.  He asserts that ebooks would become more valuable–and higher priced–if buyers knew they could resell them and recoup some of the original sales price.   He also says that like their paper cousins, individual ebooks would not last forever.  As operating systems and ereader software change, various forms of ebooks could become obsolete and not a bargain on the used marketplace.

Suzie Welker, writing in the Orangeberry Book Tours website, says of a used ebook market: “expect it to happen sometime.”

According to Welker, lower priced ebooks–as a result of a used ebook market, I presume–could, for two reasons, have the effect of reducing sales of stolen ebooks on pirate sites.   First, many people would be willing to pay a reasonable price to avoid dealing with shady book sellers and second, she reminds us that if your Kindle or Nook dies or is stolen, your legal ebooks, unlike the pirated versions, are recoverable.

The topic of used ebooks aside, Leslie Kaufman, writing in the New York Times, discusses how some big literary agencies are offering their own “self-publishing” ebook options for writers.   According to the story, author and playwright David Mamet is using a self-publishing option from his literary agency, ICM Literary Partners as a way to gain more control over his book’s marketing.

Kaufman’s article, which describes book publishing today as “digital disruption,”  explains the rationale behind agents’ decision to get into self-publishing.   It also provides a summary of different forms of  self-publishing available to authors today and explains present royalty structures, of interest to readers (in addition to writers) in order to see where book publishing is going.

What do authors have to gain by paying an agent to “self-publish” for them?   Robert Gottlieb, chairman of the Trident Media Group, told the Times that authors benefit from his agency’s experience in marketing and jacket design and his firm can give clients access to plum placement on book sellers’ websites.

What does all this mean for readers, book buyers? Ultimately you will dictate the success of all forms of ebooks as you browse Amazon or Barnes and Noble deciding which title to download.  Prices may be lower, one influence on buying decisions.  Well-known author names also figure in.  But quality?  In this expanding, digitally disrupted business be sure to read samples first.


Notes / hyperlinks

Ebooks could become more valuable says O’Leary

Suzie Welker says a used marketplace will happen

A look at self-publishing today

Authors, publishers get a reprieve;            What will happen next?

Third in the series.

So, readers and writers are in for a change.  But it may not happen as soon as has been predicted.  Plans for the resale of “used” ebooks were set back last week as a federal judge in New York ruled in favor of Capitol Records and against a company selling previously purchased digital music files.

Businessweek reported that Redigi relied on the Copyright Act’s first sale doctrine.  That principle says that someone who owns a copy of a copyrighted work is free to resell it.  Redigi reportedly asserted that the doctrine applies to digital media as well and a ruling in favor of the online seller could have opened the doors for the sale of used ebooks as well.

As reported earlier, Amazon and Apple also have drafted plans to sell used ebooks online.  Authors reacted with alarm figuring that used sales will replace new sales, and used prices will eventually tumble.

Some of the proposals and, at this point, industry rumors, have it that publishers and authors could receive compensation from the sale of used ebooks.  All remains to be seen, especially in light of the recent court ruling.

Sunday in the New York Times, author and president of the Authors Guild, Scott Turow, wrote that America’s “literary culture” was at risk.  He cited not only the proposals for the sale of used ebooks, but a court decision authorizing the importation of foreign editions of American works, often cheaper than domestic editions.

He earlier sounded an alarm after Apple and Amazon patents for used ebook sales were announced, and he said Sunday that used ebook sales will be found to be illegal.

What is going to happen to the spread of ideas, the entertainment, the inspiration that books bring us?  Change is inevitable.  Some thoughts:

— Writers will still write.   We have to.   Several authors, including best-selling sci fi writer John Scalzi, recently have said that as royalties dry up readers may be surprised to see authors finding new forms of employment.  Sadly, in most cases that will not happen.  I say sadly, because writers, if they’ve been at this any time at all, know the rules.  You write because you must.  You write books because you receive satisfaction from it (when you like what you produce) and not because you see it as a way to make a decent living.  Writers need second jobs and working spouses/partners.  Or to put it the way a writer friend of mine explained, “Writers have always gotten the short end of the stick and we’re used to it.”

In the Sunday New York Times piece Turow rightly noted that mid-list authors–not the best-sellers–will  be most hurt by plummeting book prices.   The workaday scribes who eke by cranking out books will have it tough.

–Book prices–for all formats–will come down.  A little reduction would not necessarily be a bad idea for all parties.

–Unlikely this year, a used ebook marketplace, in some form, will happen.  Publishers and/or corporate online sellers may restrict the number of times an ebook may be resold.  Legal hurdles will be higher than some expect.   It will take time, but unless some unexpected technological development or legislative change alters our present concept of books and ebooks, a used marketplace will happen.

–Copyright protection, world-wide, will continue to erode.

-The big, traditional publishers still control much of the book market and thus will influence any future used ebook marketplace.  Although Amazon, Smashwords and others are both publishers and sellers,  the big-money authors–and aspirants–will be found at Random House, HarperCollins, etc.  (According to Publisher’s Weekly, Random House income for 2011 was $2.2 billion.)

–The authors who may fare best are established writers who switch from big New York publishers to ebook self-publishing.  If authors already have a sizeable following based on paper book sales, they can bring their readers with them to the ebook marketplace.  Amazon presently gives 70% of ebook sales to publishers.  If the author is also the publisher, that beats the standard author royalty many times over.   Authors who do not yet have enough of a following to sustain ebook sales also will be successful if they become adept at social media marketing and other avenues to attract readers.   Some best-selling authors will decide to remain sheltered by their agents and one of the big-six publishing houses.

–As book sales that produce royalities decrease, many authors should focus on the contractual aspects of their advance.  It might be the only book income they ever see.

–Another author friend suggests that increased exposure via a used ebook market could be beneficial–provided the price of ebooks doesn’t tank.


Businessweek reports on Redigi decision

Scott Turow sounds off

Largest publishers in the world


This blog will continue to cover these developing issues while also providing samples of flash fiction, books reviews and articles about flash fiction writers and publishers.


Congratulations to flash fiction journal Vestal Review.  It just celebrated its 13th birthday.

 Vestal Review

Will a fire sale for ebook buyers        become the authors’ pyre?

Ramifications, realizations spread in wake of used marketplace news

Second in a series

From the first, ebooks promised to transform the publishing business.  Ebooks joined music and movies as a popular item to be hijacked and distributed by torrent websites.  Now the possibility of a marketplace where “used” or previously owned ebooks can be resold  has authors, publishers and book lovers wondering what will happen as Amazon and Apple proceed with patents for such a system.  Authors’ biggest fear is that a used marketplace will cause new ebook prices to deflate faster than the Hindenburg.

Amazon’s patent was granted two months ago; Apple’s is pending.  The two giant online retailers have not said what they plan to do with the patents.  In contrast to websites such as Pirate Bay, run by thieves who ignore copyright, new ebook marketplaces outlined in the patents promise controls that will reduce unauthorized duplication of ebooks.  A relatively new online “used” music seller,  Redigi, has already set up a resale system the company says is similar to a conventional used book or record store.  The system for used ebook sales will get rolling, pending the outcome of a lawsuit.

According to news reports, the Redigi system will permit people who have purchased ebooks to offer them for sale online.   Like the Amazon and Apple proposals, an ebook will only be sold once and then it disappears from the previous owner’s files.  Redigi CEO John Ossenmacher told Time Magazine the company has validation tools that let them determine if digital material has been legitimately purchased, if it has been transferred between computers and other information.  Pirated digital merchandise will not be sold, according to Ossenmacher.

The company designed the tools to protect copyrights, Ossenmacher told Time.  He said Redigi will suspend the accounts of people who don’t follow the rules.

One side benefit of a used marketplace like Redigi’s or Apple’s is that it might reduce piracy. “By enforcing old-fashioned rules of physical ownership onto modern, non-physical objects, Apple’s patent might support the company’s goal of combating piracy,” Charles Pulliam-Moore wrote recently in Slate.  “In creating a used digital store, Apple would provide an easier, safer, quicker alternative to pirating media…,” he said.readers  b&w  3578

Perhaps the biggest (encouraging) surprise in the Redigi plan is that, unlike in the sale of used paper books, publishers and authors can receive compensation.  Trade magazine Publishers Weekly recently reported that Ossenmacher appeared at a roundtable discussion with publishers and told them income from the resale of ebooks “represents billions of dollars on the table.”

Billions of dollars into publishers pockets likely will not assuage the doubts of authors as to any potential benefits from a used ebook marketplace.   But then, contrary to popular opinion, most writers get paid very little for their books.

“The vast majority of writers are not like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling or Suzanne Collins,” said best-selling sci fi author John Scalzi.  “The average author makes a four-figure salary a year from their writing,” Scalzi told Jenny Shank, writing in NPR/Mediashift.

“People don’t see creative people as they are in reality,” Scalzi told Shank.   “Ninety-nine percent of everybody in a creative field is barely eking by. Also, when it comes right down to it, people like getting bargains. They’re not following the product chain back to the initial starting point.”

Scalzi said part of the job today is to remind readers that books are created by human beings who have to pay rent and feed their children.

To be sure, writers do not get rich.  The most successful book I’ve written sold about 60,000 copies in all editions over several years.  That was enough for my publisher at the time to call me a “mid-list author.”  What I made from that at 10-15% royalty plus advance was certainly not enough for my family to live on, even at poverty level.  And many authors never even make mid-list, let alone best seller status.  Most authors have day jobs and working spouses–or should.  (Fortunately for me, my day jobs have always been in writing: commercials, direct mail, journalism.)

So, as a used ebook marketplace threatens to remake the book business and further erode authors’ income, questions remain.  Several conclusions–perhaps at odds with public perception–seem clear however.   We’ll look at those next time.


Redigi’s tools to protect copyright   

Apple’s system might reduce piracy

Authors have doubts

Publishers could profit from “used” sales

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