ReDigi revisited: will you be able to sell “used” e-books?

ReDigi revisited: will you be able to sell “used” e-books?

I last wrote about ReDigi more than four years ago

Judge rules against ReDigi, making Amazon used e-books more likely

so it was quite interesting to see it pop up in the news again, especially in this

Publishers Weekly article by Andrew Albanese

Let’s start out with taking a step back, and looking the issue from outside this specific case.

There are advantages and disadvantages to e-books (electronic books) versus p-books (paperbooks).

When the Kindle first caused the explosive growth in what had been a marginal part of the market back in 2007, the differences were more pronounced.

Some of the advantages of e-books were (and still are, for the most part):

  • No need for storage
  • Lighter to carry
  • More accessible, especially through enlargeable fonts (but also through text-to-speech)
  • Many free books available
  • Many more less expensive books available (there are a lot of ninety-nine cent Kindle books available)…this doesn’t mean that e-books are always less expensive than their p-book equivalents
  • Multiple people on the same account can be reading the same book at the same time in different geographic locations
  • Books are able to “stay in print” longer
  • Onboard dictionaries and other references
  • Independent publishing is much easier, leading to more diverse offerings

Some of the advantages of p-books were

  • No platform issues (you didn’t need a specific type of device to read your purchase)
  • Color
  • Ability to give as a gift
  • Ability to donate
  • Ability to sell and buy used
  • Lower entry price point (you didn’t need to buy an expensive device to get into it, even if the content later could be cheaper with e-books)

You probably noticed that I didn’t say that the p-book advantages are the same in the way that I did with the e-books.

That’s because e-books have been catching up with p-books in some ways.

We can now give Kindle books as gifts (at least, within the same market…USA to USA, for example).

We can now see e-books in color (on tablets…that wasn’t really available until there was a joining of the e-book market and tablets).

We can gift e-books to non-profits, and through


have Amazon donate to non-profits we choose.

In terms of the high initial cost, e-books can be read on SmartPhones and computers much more effectively, making it practical for many people to read Kindle books without first buying an expensive device…that, and the entry level price of a Kindle

Kindle E-reader – Black, 6″ Glare-Free Touchscreen Display, Wi-Fi – Includes Special Offers (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

has come down from just about $400 to about $80 at time of writing (about an 80% reduction), with tablets available even less expensively.

Still, we can’t sell used e-books.

I’ve written about that quite a bit before. The basic thing is that when you buy a Kindle book, you are really buying a license to read it. It’s very different from buying a physical copy of a book, and just like e-books versus p-books, there are advantages and disadvantages. I wrote about those in this popular post of mine:

How an e-book is like a treadmill at the gym

which I also wrote about the same time as the last time I discussed ReDigi.

That brings us back to that specific case (see how I did that?). 🙂

ReDigi tried to set up a used e-book marketplace. They tried to emulate the way selling a used p-book works. The seller would, effectively, surrender their license. ReDigi would hold it, then re-sell it to someone else, taking a cut.

That’s not exactly it, but the key argument was that there wasn’t a duplication of the ownership: no more people had access to the e-book after the sale than had access to it before.

A judge ruled against ReDigi, although it was more on the process (which created an unauthorized copy) than on the concept.

ReDigi went into a type of bankruptcy.

Now, at the time, Amazon was also considering setting up an authorized e-book resale market, although it didn’t end up happening.

Legal cases can take a very long time, even decades, to finish. As I read what happened recently (and I am not a lawyer), the winners made a tactical mistake, and wanted ReDigi to go into a different, more permanent kind of bankruptcy. That opened up a line of defense for ReDigi, like when someone in a criminal case calls a witness or opens a line of inquiry that lets the other side use tactics which would otherwise have been out of bounds.

It’s possible that this case will determine new definitions of Fair Use, and may open up that used e-book after all (and, by the way, could clearly establish the right of the owner of a copy of a paperbook to digitize that book for their own use…that’s generally assumed to be the case now, but it would be nice to see it much more “officially” decided).

If that happened, what would it mean?

One possibility would be a rise in the price of tradpubbed (traditionally published) e-books.

Authors don’t get a cut when you buy a used p-book in a used bookstore, so the initial price of the p-book takes that into account. It’s part of why paper textbooks are so expensive: they may be resold several times.

If the same sort of thing happens with e-books, then those prices might also go up.

That might mean that indies (independently published) books get more of a price advantage…although the resale market would presumably affect them as well. However, the resale for a lesser known author could be a lot less likely than for a brand name author, so there may be less risk for them. Some indie authors are also not trying to make a living at it (although many are), which means they again feel less pressure if they don’t maximize their revenue. That might be true if, for example, what they really want is to be read, and they either have an effective day job or don’t need income.

Readers could benefit from the system because they might be able to buy books more cheaply and recoup purchase costs through resale.

Tradpubs really don’t want this to happen. One of their arguments is that a used p-book has been degraded, and will eventually fall apart and not be able to be resold. A “used e-book” is a perfect replica and the same license could hypothetically be sold hundreds of times. This is similar to what they have argued about library licenses in some cases, when, for example, they restrict the number of times a book can be loaned before a new license needs to be purchased.

My feeling is that the best solution is probably one similar to what Amazon was considering, where the resales are licensed and controlled. I don’t feel like you automatically have the right to sell a contract…your apartment landlord can say you can’t sublet. The idea does appeal to people, and by making it legal, the author could actually be compensated multiple times for the sale of the same book…potentially making a used e-book market better for authors than the p-book market.

We’ll see what happens…

What do you think? Should consumers be able to sell “used” e-books? How much does that matter to you? If they can sell them, how should publishers and authors be compensated? If a market was established, how would that affect the market? Do you care about selling used e-books…have you just accepted that you don’t do that with e-books? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

My current Amazon Giveaways

Amazon Giveaway for And Then There Were None!

Winner:Randomly selected after Giveaway has ended, up to 1 winner.
Requirements for participation:
Resident of the 50 United States or the District of Columbia
Follow @TMCGTT on twitter
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Start:May 12, 2017 6:24 PM PDT
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Star Wars Day through 40 years of Star Wars!
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It’s going on that long in part so that it covers the actual 40th anniversary of Star Wars (of the release in the USA) on May 25th 2017. Also, this book, which has good reviews and is new, is $14.99 in the Kindle edition…which is a lot for me for a giveaway. 🙂

Good luck, and may the Force be with you!

One Murder More (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

the award-winning, highly-rated mystery by my sibling, Kris Calvin!


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Thanks to the hundreds of people who have entered my previous giveaways for a chance to win Kris’ book! I don’t benefit directly from Kris’ book, although we have had a lot of conversations about it. 🙂

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

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 * I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.


10 Responses to “ReDigi revisited: will you be able to sell “used” e-books?”

  1. Lady Galaxy Says:

    I guess I’m too much of a hoarder to want to give up most of my e-books. Since I have a very small house, back when paper books were the only option, I’d have to make an occasional trip to the Half Price Bookstore to sell some old books in order to make room for new ones. I did it very reluctantly! Now that I buy e-books almost exclusively, I still hold on to my moderate collection of paper books–even the ones for which I also purchased Kindle editions. Even though I will probably never read most of them again, I want to know that I have them available just in case!
    I would like to see more book become available to loan, though I suppose that might raise the prices as well. I’ve solved the problem in the past by loading books I wanted to lend onto of my old K3 devices and then letting very trusted friends and relatives borrow the Kindle. Now, it seems that two of my K3 devices will become obsolete as of 5/31/17 if I don’t upgrade them with software that has very poor kerning at larger print sizes, so that may no longer be an option. No matter how many times I have explained to Amazon that 90% of my books are simply unreadable at larger print on the most recent updates for the K3, they have done nothing to solve the problem other than continue to insist that we all upgrade, or to my eyes, downgrade to the most recent software.
    I can’t seem to find out if I will still be able to manually download books to the older Kindles or not. This time they even sent a snail mail letter! The letter says, “To avoid any interruption to your reading, including your ability to access the Kindle store from your device…” which seems to indicate that this change will involve more than just the ability to access the Kindle store, I worry that they are making some changes that will involve not just access to the Kindle store but the ability to display new content. Since this is the third time Amazon has set a deadline and the other two deadlines passed without losing access to Amazon from the Kindles, I don’t know if they are serious this time or not. Perhaps the third time is the “charm,” or in this case, the “hex.”
    And off topic, but still a question, has Amazon stopped providing “special offers” on all Kindles, or just the older ones? I have “special offers” on my one K3 that does have the up to date software, but for the past few months, there have been no offers, just a screen saver showing a woman in a long gown standing by a telescope against the background of a crescent moon and comet saying “Find Your Next Favorite Book.” If they aren’t going to offer me anything, I’d really like to have my old set of screen savers back.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady!

      On your last question, I suspect that has to do with you not having upgraded. I’ll double check, but I think my Kindles do have the Special Offers update.

      I can see people losing contact with the store without compensation, but losing contact with the archives? That seems unlikely. I could see them offering a hardware upgrade (which wouldn’t solve your kerning issue) if you can’t download books from your Cloud. I could also see them saying you need to download all your books and manage them yourself, but that would require deactivating the DRM (Digital Rights Management) to work effectively, and I don’t think the publishers would go for that.

      Legally, I would guess Amazon has the right to change the kerning…

      • Lady Galaxy Says:

        The Kindle with special offers is the one K3 that is fully updated. I updated that one first because it was the newest. Once I saw how difficult the upgrade was to read, I did not upgrade my two older K3 units. Eventually, the batteries will give out and that will be the end of them. Fortunately, with the improvements they’ve made in the Voyage software, I find fewer and fewer books with huge gaping holes in the middle of sentences, but every time I get notified that I need to upgrade I hold my breath to see if it’s really an upgrade or a downgrade.

        And I promise to quit whining about it. It’s been like the Sword of Damocles for over a year now. If they’re going to do kill my access to the Kindle Store, I wish they’d just do it and get it over with!

  2. alanchurch Says:

    Bufo, I don’t know how you do it! You have a day job and also are able to read a great deal and write a lot and you obviously know an enoumous amount, so the only answer is that you are like that Lawrence Block hero ,Evan Tanner, who never sleeps.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, alanchurch!


      I’ve been accused of being a house name in the past…that “Bufo Calvin” is actually a collection of people. It’s not…it’s my legal name, it’s what’s on my driver’s license, and I’m the only one.

      I do sleep less than most people, but that’s only been true for a couple of years. I used to sleep eight hours regularly, but then it was like a switch flipped, and I commonly sleep fewer than six hours. I’ve seen a doctor about it a few times, but it seems to be okay.

      However, I also added in about an hour and a half of daily exercise since I started sleeping less, so that eats up some of the additional time.

      Two things really make it possible. One is that I multitask well, so I read while I do most of my exercises much of the time, for example. Secondly, in terms of my current reading, text-to-speech helps a lot! I listen to it in the car, usually for hours a week…without that, I’d get a lot less reading done.

      When I managed a bookstore, we had a “loss prevention” person come and inspect us…and supposedly, this person never slept! They could audit four stores in a day or so, literally doing it around the clock. I had trouble believing that (there should be psychological impacts if you don’t sleep, even after just a few days), but they confirmed it to me. I asked what they did when they were at home…the response was that, having a farm, they might be on the tractor working the field at 2:00 in the morning! Sounds dangerous to me. I assume they “zoned out” periodically, which would allow the mind reorganization sleep does without needing actual sleep.

  3. alanchurch Says:

    Lady galaxy, learned a new word-“kerning”

  4. Tom Semple Says:

    I am comfortable with the idea that we do not ‘own’ ebooks, and cannot re-sell them. I have enough trouble finding time to read the books I’ve purchased, and trying to decide which of them I want to give away or resell would just be a bother IMO.
    But having a ‘license’ is not ideal: what if I don’t like the reading apps and service a given vendor provides, and want to take my license (or business) to a different one? There is no provision for this. The only precedents have been when one vendor (e.g. Borders, Sony) leaves the business and transitions it to another vendor (e.g. Kobo). In other cases, they just lose access.
    If vendors were required to provide (or saw some advantage in providing) a ‘license transfer service’, I could see that as a useful thing, and that could enable people give a license to someone else, resell it, or take it to a different reading service (even one that doesn’t sell licenses themselves). Probably there would need to be a transaction fee to support this infrastructure, and in the case of transfer to a different owner, a re licensing fee that would go to the publisher. I cannot see this ever happening however.
    I would prefer a more ‘universal’ subscription service as we are seeing for music, where there is broad support from publishers and content providers, across a set of service providers. It just seems like a more appropriate and consumer friendly business model for digital content. But book publishers are not ready to sign on, except with ‘crippled’ subscription services like Scribd, and specialized content subscription services like Safari Books Online.
    Music and video subscription services emerged naturally because consumers had already abandoned physical media in favor of more convenient pure digital experiences and streaming. But for many people a print book remains more convenient and accessible. So it might be awhile before ebook subscription services take off (I say this every year, but I am not planning to renew Kindle Unlimited this year – I’m finding more value in library borrowing, which is supported by my taxes).

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Tom!

      Well, while this isn’t explicit, I do think that if Amazon disappeared and no other company bought the Kindle cloud (I’m being loose with the terms), it would be ruled to be okay to break the DRM (Digital Rights Management)…although that might not help consumers if the files were in the Cloud. I would guess they would give you time to download the books…I’ve seen that times. Here are some exemptions to the prohibition for cracking it:

      Computer programs and video games distributed in formats that have become obsolete and that require the original media or hardware as a condition of access, when circumvention is accomplished for the purpose of preservation or archival reproduction of published digital works by a library or archive. A format shall be considered obsolete if the machine or system necessary to render perceptible a work stored in that format is no longer manufactured or is no longer reasonably available in the commercial marketplace. 3. Computer programs protected by dongles that prevent access due to malfunction or
      Recommendation of the Register of Copyrights November 17, 2006 Page 2
      damage and which are obsolete. A dongle shall be considered obsolete if it is no longer manufactured or if a replacement or repair is no longer reasonably available in the commercial marketplace.

      Neither of those specifically address an e-book format, but I think it would be found to reasonably apply.

      That’s not exactly what you were saying, though. 🙂 Explain this one to me a bit more:

      “I would prefer a more ‘universal’ subscription service as we are seeing for music, where there is broad support from publishers and content providers, across a set of service providers.”

      If I pay for an album at Amazon, I can just automatically listen to it through iTunes? MP3s are pretty platform independent, but that’s not what you are saying, right?

      We do enjoy and will continue to use Kindle Unlimited (I’m reading Signature Wounds by Kirk Russell right now). The public library is great, but I just don’t like to take the license away from somebody who might not otherwise be able to afford a book when we can afford them…

      It’s a good observation about physical books still being the dominant form. Vinyl records are out there, but not in the numbers that digital downloads are.

  5. Man in the Middle Says:

    If a “used” ebook is identical to a new ebook, it seems redundant to sell both. I’d rather keep the current system, but I’m a KU subscriber, so don’t actually buy many Ebooks in any case (only those I consider excellent and expect to read again, and usually only when those go on sale at prices I consider fair.)

    My goal is to have ONLY Kindle Ebooks by the time they ship me off to a nursing home someday, so I can still have my entire library there with me on my cellphone or whatever Kindle I’m using by then.

    The danger of that solution is needing a way to still access the Kindle books I have in the cloud if Amazon ever goes away or dumps the Kindle.

    An example of that problem is that I currently have my entire music library in MP3 format, and its originator has just abandoned the licenses that allow it to exist. I REALLY don’t like the idea of having to convert well over 800 albums of music into another format, just because MP3’s creator got tired of paying license fees for the software it uses.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Man!

      It doesn’t seem to me like the degradation of a paperbook is a prerequisite for it to have unique value as a resale. It’s being read by a different person (or people), and that’s what makes it non-redundant…at least to me. 🙂 It’s an interesting idea: would publishers be more accepting of selling e-books “used” if the file degraded each time? Maybe some letters disappear from words at random, with more letters with each sale? Funny thought!

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