Used e-books. Sound good? Sound cheaper? . . . sound like an impossibility? After all, e-books won't be worn out when you get them second-hand. They will be just as pretty as ever. So why would anyone buy a full-price e-book when they could get one second-hand for fewer dollars?
Take a look at the chain of reasoning here:
I can't see this leading anywhere GOOD for writers. Publishing is tenuous at best right now. Profit margins are always slim, and this could lead to a vanishing return. This could push New York houses over the cliff. I know, you're gonna say that libraries always lent books and used bookstores have not put writers out of business. But the difference is that the library books wore out and had to be replaced or got sold off in a library sale so the library could buy more books, and the used books only lasted so long (you might get three or four trades out of one book before it got shabby, waterlogged, dirty, or thrown away for some other reason.) E-books will not wear out. They can be cloned/copied easily.
Amazon has plans for selling used Kindle e-books. A book gets branded within the system when it is first purchased. Let's say that this buyer reads it and decides to sell his copy. The buyer puts it up for resale at the Kindle store and that copy is removed from his account and transferred to the buyer's account. Amazon receives a small fee for each sale. That is the plan as we know it right now.
But! BUT! And again, BUT!! (to quote one of my fave passages from _Chitty Chitty Bang Bang_)
You don't own your copy of the data when you buy a Kindle book or other e-book. Strictly speaking, you pay for a LICENSE to read and own that digital copy. So you can't handle it in the same way that you would physical items.
Bolstering this viewpoint are those specialists in copyright law who point out the "doctrine of first sale." By their lights, this would be against the law because digital goods aren't physical entities, and cannot be resold. (My understanding of this comes from Marilyn Byerly's article at http://mbyerly.blogspot.com/2009/04/first-sale-doctrine-and-ebooks.html.)
A legal battle is underway between ReDigi, a used digital music store, and the various groups in the music industry over a similar system. If ReDigi wins the lawsuit, then Amazon will have a precedent to point to and will probably move forward.
"Well," you're saying, "so what? Maybe authors will be hurt, but what do I care, as long as I get my cheap and free reads?"
Let's look at the bigger picture and how Amazon will come to dominate the market like WalMart and put others out of business, shall we?
Buyers are thrifty little tightwads and very clever. If the used Kindle e-book is cheaper than any other version of the book, buyers will dump the Kobo, the Nook, iTunes, and whatever else in favor of the Kindle--and probably the Kindle e-reader itself (rather than using the books on a Kindle app). Kindles will become the majority--nay, the steamroller that crushes the competition.
"Couldn't the competitors do the same thing, though?" you are asking. In order for the competitors to create a similar setup, they'd have to spend a lot of time and money. Amazon would have the advantage in the market for the foreseeable future.
Of course, once Amazon dominated the used e-book market, it could cancel used e-books entirely, and people would have to pay whatever price Amazon named for new books. They'd be the monopoly.
Marilyn Byerly goes so far as to theorize, "Some in the industry believe that Amazon is intent on killing off publishers so authors will have to go the self-publishing route, and authors as individuals have no real bargaining power when it comes to the terms Amazon will set."
Now, THAT should scare you.
Am I "overthinking this," as many non-analytical types claim whenever I go into detail about why their pet project won't work or has plot holes? I don't THINK so. I think we'd better take this seriously NOW.
Although I don't know what we can do about it all, other than refrain from buying "used" e-books.