Brown River Queen cover art

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Used E-Books For Sale, Cheap.

The Interwebs are awash in rumors that Amazon, everyone's favorite monolithic bookseller, may be quietly making plans to allow for the re-sale of 'used' e-books.

I know, I know. Print books have been resold as used books for decades, even centuries. And I'm fine with that, even though I don't make any money off the resales.

But I don't see the move to allow e-books to be sold as 'used' as the equivalent to the resale of paper books.

A used paper book is, judging by the used books I've bought over the years, obviously used. Sometimes, apparently, as both a door-stop and an impromptu combat shield. Which is fine; I like giving a book someone obviously enjoyed a new home.

But e-books never age. The covers don't fade. The pages don't get dog-eared. The dog doesn't chew the corners. The thing Amazon is itching to label as a 'used' e-book is absolutely indistinguishable from a 'new' e-book except in one respect -- the price.

And that's where I take exception.

Oops. See, I mentioned price, which implies I'm concerned about the monetary reward for my writing. I forgot that as an author I should be slaving away strictly for the fun of it. In fact, as an artiste, I should be deeply insulted at the very mention of filthy lucre, preferring instead to take my sustenance from the lofty magical essence of my Muse's ethereal whisperings instead.

I'd be glad to do just that. But Microsoft doesn't have an ETHEREAL WHISPERINGS button with which to pay my Office 360 subscription. My computer parts can't be bought with an IOU from my Muse, and she claims the same is true for her liquor store tab.

No, that takes actual money.

My publisher, assuming I have one, also can't exist without some form of small remuneration.

But lately, Amazon -- the 900 pound gorilla in the small hot room that is Publishing -- seems determined to push authors and publishers as far to the side as possible.

First, Amazon started charging publishers for better placement in the 'algos.' Algo is shorthand for algorithm, as in the algorithm that decides where each of the eleventy zillion books they sell will fall on page searches and so forth.

In effect, Amazon is poking publishers in the chest and saying 'Dat's a nice book you got there. Be a shame if nobody ever saw it. How's about a little donation to make sure dat nice book don't fall off the list, and go boom? Fugheddabouddit."

Which was bad enough. Smaller publishers, already operating on the slimmest of margins, sometimes found themselves unable to turn a profit and keep their books from falling down so low they have to order canned sunlight. But of course the bigger houses can pay, and they do, because a book nobody can find is a book nobody will buy.

And now the Zon is plotting to further undercut publishers and authors by allowing 'used' sales of their e-books?

I can't think of a better way to devastate an industry. If the product page for my books shows a new Kindle version at $1.99 and a used Kindle version, which is the same bloody thing, at 99 cents (or whatever, always less than the price of 'new'), is there any way such a listing will NOT choke my sales?

Even if I get a small cut -- and I have no idea if that will happen, or how -- I and my publisher just lost all control over how much our books will cost. And since the publisher set that price for a reason, it's going to hurt us.

I hope I'm wrong about all this. Maybe recent events have left me jumpy. That could well be the case.

But even if Amazon does start offering 'used' e-books, I won't ever buy one. 

(Image at top: Everett Collection Inc. | - image52027862#res5678350)


  1. Here's hoping you're wrong. But there are sites who have played with it already. Amazon's take on it so far is the "subscription" model--where they pay by the page and they decide what the author will earn. Usually it's less than the author would earn if the book SOLD to the reader. I'm not against subscription models--but it's another case where essentially Amazon sets the price and it can be artificially low to attract more people to their site. The cost? Well, the author earns less.

    When you self-publish Markhat, make sure you set up a way for people to buy from your own site, Frank. I'll buy from you. I visit here anyway so there's no reason not to! (I set up my site a long time ago so people can buy the ebooks from my blog "store." Payment is by paypal so no one has to set up a special account. I don't see credit card info, I don't get any private info.)

    Good article. But then, I read everything you write!

  2. The subscription business requires byin (aka permission) from the author. I would expect that this would as well, or they'll be open to some fine law suits.

    But nothing amazon does surprises me. I've been warning for years that amazon is NOT your friend. Either author OR consumer.

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  4. Were you overcome by Amazon's foul perfidy Frank? We worry about you!