Used ebooks are taking another slice of a writer’s pie

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Used copies contradict the inherent value in e-books

By Tara Nykyforiak

On March 11, the Forbes website posted an article on the potential for a used e-book marketplace on online sites such as Amazon and Apple. If this becomes reality, new obstacles and authorship challenges will plague writers everywhere.

With e-readers already a popular choice among consumers, the question is whether e-book purchasers should be allowed to resell in the same fashion as a physical book.

In terms of buyer’s rights, a potential parallel does exist between the two.

Publishers control the number of copies of physical books released for sale. This allows them to also control the prices of each book, but in doing so, they are abiding by the doctrine of first sale; when a consumer
purchases a book from a store such as Chapters, the publisher no longer controls further sales. These rights are now in the hands of the book’s owner.

But e-book files should not be treated the same way. No changes would occur to a digital file over time — there is no spine to crease, no pages to yellow and tear, and no chance of coffee forever staining its cover. A “used” ebook’s lower price tag would not reflect the fact that it is identical to a “new” one.

Furthermore, if a buyer has the offer of a cheaper “used” file identical to the more expensive new one, it’s easy to see that he or she would go for option A. Thus, not only would the author’s work be further devalued, but in the most perverse way possible. And where does this leave the author and publisher? If used e-books adhere to the traditional doctrine of first sale, the publisher and author would be awarded zero dollars from the resale of these files.

However, if an agreement is made that includes the author and publisher, the author would be paid 25 per cent of the used digital list price. Whatever Amazon, the used e-book seller, and the author do not make is awarded to the publisher.

Let’s say you have slaved away all day and have not been able to eat anything. Starving at 11 p.m., you make yourself a delicious homemade pizza and smell its warm fragrances wafting around you while it bakes. Once it’s done and you place it down to cool, I break into your kitchen and eat all but a single bite of your pizza pie. You go to bed wondering how I could be so cruel.

Writers work hard to create the books they do, going through countless hours of brainstorming, drafting, editing, re-editing, and finally putting everything together into a complete and presentable form. To take slivers
away from their already meagre slice of the pie is not only unjust, but showcases the ideals most valued by society today: How can I make a quick buck, and who can I use to get it?

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