Yesterday, TeleRead published two thoughtful essays on the digital reselling issue (here, and here) from author Marilynn Byerly. I appreciate her desire to ensure that any used digital market is fair to authors. I don’t, however, think Amazon is—as she asserts—about to ‘break the law.’
Why not? Because while many have tried to interpret the current law to the best of their ability, it hasn’t been definitely established by a precedent-establishing case whether or not digital goods are subject to the first sale doctrine. But this is not a bad thing—it means a healthy discussion and debate can still occur, and that a fair system can be established in the marketplace so that everybody wins.
But here is my difficulty:
In so many articles I’ve read on this subject (including those by Marilynn), the argument is predicated on the supposition that digital goods and physical goods are two different things. And yet Marilynn and her ilk refuse to accept that if this supposition is accepted as fact, then customers are going to expect a different pricing model, too. (And no, such an expectation will not mean that customers are evil, terrible, author-hating people.)
I pay for my content, I do. But—and this is my whole issue—if publishers or retailers want my e-book to be just a license and not a sale, then they need to charge me license-level prices, period.
To charge me the same amount of money (or more, in some cases) that I’d pay for a paper book with the same content, and then to tell me that simply because of the format choice for which I paid the same amount of money, I have fewer rights!—that does not sit right with me.
Move to a lease model if you must, booksellers. But adjust your prices to reflect that:
(a) Your profit will be higher because every eyeball must pay, and …
(b) That your costs will be lower because you are not printing and shipping and storing inventory, and …
(c) That your customer is getting something different from paper: On the plus, the convenience of instant gratification. But on the minus, a lack of true ownership, and a restriction on recouping some of their money by being able to resell.
Fair is fair, yes? Marilynn, you’re asking for fairer treatment for authors. But customers, of course, need to be treated fairly, too.