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February 7, 2013 9:04 AM   Subscribe

Amazon contemplating the used ebook market. But will they still have used book coffee rings on the pages?

The Digital Reader breaks it down.

And then contemplates Amazon vs. ReDigi.

Previously: Places to find free ebooks
posted by weeyin (69 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Once a lawsuit that Capitol Records filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan over the way it handles music downloads is behind it, ReDigi plans to expand into e-books and other digital items.

Oh, is that all?
posted by Horace Rumpole at 9:08 AM on February 7, 2013


My wife steals all her ebooks by downloading them from the library, and breaking the DRM so she can read them whenever she wants. She goes through a TON of books this way, probably 5 a week. I can't figure out the ethics of this -- the library spends exactly as much money as if she just checked the book out, the author still gets paid just as much, what's the harm? At the same time we've gone from spending $100-200 a month on books to spending $0, and possibly reading more books, so something must be unethical about that, right?
posted by miyabo at 9:12 AM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


One area of interest on digitial re-sales: German consumer advocacy group The Federation of German Consumer Association filed an official complaint against Valve Software for its Steam's end-user license agreement because it does not allow consumers to resell digital content.The European High Court ruled last year that digital content games can be sold. It's going to be real interesting to see how this works. If the publishers were smart (of any media) they'd be angling for a cut. Instead they'll probably obfuscate and delay and end up with nothing.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:16 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can't figure out the ethics of this

Technology that attempts to assert rights for publishers not recognized by the society in which their works are published will be circumvented, until either the society changes or the publishers do. That fact doesn't care how you feel about it. So have at it, I say. :)
posted by Vetinari at 9:18 AM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


If reselling Ebooks becomes possible, it would remove one of the last barriers preventing me from always choosing ebooks over print. (For now, I still prefer print for how to and reference books)
posted by drezdn at 9:19 AM on February 7, 2013


Ah, artificial scarcity, is there no good thing you can't turn into a problem?
posted by DU at 9:21 AM on February 7, 2013 [10 favorites]


More on topic: the endgame here is we'll either end up with DRM that limits the _number_ of works in circulation and nothing else — books-as-bitcoins if you will — with resale/loan working as they do today, or we'll end up with no DRM because the expense of books-as-bitcoins won't be worth it. DRM is only interesting to publishers because they think it will allow them to monetize things they can't with media-as-physical-object. The limited acceptance of this viewpoint is not encouraging for the prospect of society changing before the publishers give up.
posted by Vetinari at 9:21 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


At the same time we've gone from spending $100-200 a month on books to spending $0, and possibly reading more books, so something must be unethical about that, right?

It isn't a question of ethics... I mean, on the one hand you've discovered a dirty little secret: public libraries let you read books for free! on the other hand you are an open hungry mouth i.e. a consumer sitting at one end of a long war between publishers/record companies/film studios and e-retailers like amazon or apple over who gets to broker the stream of commoditized media product from alienated content-factory workers to consumers.

Reselling ebooks kills any "long tail" arguments about how the "internet" is going to reward small-scale content producers. So, basically, you are looking at some sort of Marxist catastrophe where as the marginal cost of production and distribution approaches zero, the only people who make any money are the rentier classes.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:25 AM on February 7, 2013 [6 favorites]




I can't figure out the ethics of this...



Technology allowed something once scarce to be reproduced for free, everything after that is about power and protecting profit.

I love libraries, but christ, the internet should have undercut the prime market of libraries, the internet should have become a library. Instead, the internet became a store.

I don't really see how breaking drm on an ebook for personal use is any worse than transcribing a book for personal use; if you're willing to take the time to do it, I don't see the problem.

The entire game seems to be about institutions using coercive tactics to maintain profits after a technological change has threatened their profit model.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:26 AM on February 7, 2013 [4 favorites]



Ah, artificial scarcity, is there no good thing you can't turn into a problem?
posted by DU at 9:21 AM on February 7 [2 favorites −]


Hey, water falls from the sky and we still pay two bucks a bottle for it.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:27 AM on February 7, 2013


I never actually understood library book DRM. It seems really cargo cult-y to me, in that they're imposing a simulation of a physical restriction on ebooks that, originally, had nothing to do with getting the book away from the borrower and everything to do with getting it back in the library. Is there a particularly good reason for it existing in the first place, outside of appeasing terrified publishing houses?
posted by griphus at 9:33 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I love libraries, but christ, the internet should have undercut the prime market of libraries, the internet should have become a library. Instead, the internet became a store.

The internet didn't become a store, the internet was privatized by assholes like Al Gore with a chorus of e-libertarians dressed up as cyberpunks, whole-earth hippies and techno-visionaries singing hosannahs about how the digital free market was going to rewrite human history.

Imagining the future as a limitless bookstore filled with fanfiction written by people with master's degrees looking to stay one step ahead of their student loans...
posted by ennui.bz at 9:35 AM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


In other Amazon news: Hot on the heels of Flooz, Beenz, and Bitcoin, Amazon launches its own currency.
posted by entropicamericana at 9:41 AM on February 7, 2013


Is there a particularly good reason for it existing in the first place, outside of appeasing terrified publishing houses?

That's the long and short of it. Why should the publishing houses give away DRM free copies of something they are trying to sell? And if they do want to give out free copies of books, why would they contract it out to some geographically bound third party? They could easily do so from their own website, and several do. Add to that that the people who are most interested in the lending of ebooks are the people who own an ereader (middle class people who read a lot of books) are the main people buying ebooks.
posted by zabuni at 9:46 AM on February 7, 2013


The entire game seems to be about institutions using coercive tactics to maintain profits after a technological change has threatened their profit model.

Ah yes, Big Library and its evil, rapacious ways.

Everyone knows that authors rake in money on their live concert-reading tours, why should we ever have to pay them for their stupid books, which are clearly just advertising for their concert-readings. And heck, sometimes you only really want to read the hit chapter in the book and they still demand you buy the whole damn thing. Fuck that noise.
posted by yoink at 9:47 AM on February 7, 2013 [14 favorites]


I can't figure out the ethics of this

Here are the rules I use for myself. I allow myself to break the DRM and read the book whenever I want. However, when I am done reading it, I delete it. If I want to read the book again, I have to check it out of the library again. At this point, all I'm doing is time shifting and I think that's morally cool.

Legally I'm up a creek, but that's a different matter.

The fact that you are no longer spending money on books is just a reflection of the fact that you are using the library rather than buying books, and I don't see how that figures into the ethics of things at all. If nothing else, your wife's voracious appetite for eBooks will convince the library to buy more, thus benefiting everyone.

You are, however, ethically obligated to support library measures that appear on your local ballot (assuming you are allowed to vote). No weaseling out of that one.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 9:59 AM on February 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


This is fascinating in ways I can't parse. I'm sure someone has their sights set on the eventual endgame this would bring about, but personally I can see this going into a million equally plausible directions.
posted by Keith Talent at 10:00 AM on February 7, 2013


It's kind of weird; as an author (and an artist) I make a sizable chunk of my income via book royalties. It's not really enough to get by on, but it makes a big difference. However I've noticed that my sales revenues have gone up since my book has been widely pirated online. I don't know if there's a connection, but if anything the anecdotal data points in a positive direction.

Really though, as a former tech geek who is all about open source and whatnot, it's a lot harder to make those arguments and stand by them when it's your bread and butter on the line. I like to think that treating my "fans" and readers positively is much better than treating them like criminals before I've even met them; the whole idea is to build a relationship that encourages them to participate and to feel like part of a group, rather than isolated copyright criminals or some such.

I'd love to give away copies of my book for free electronically (it's a book that you really need to have in your hands to be properly useful) as a kind of advertising, but my publisher would never ever let that happen.

I do feel that reselling e-books makes perfect legal sense, as one is allowed to resell a paper book, and I fail to see any difference between the two from a sales perspective.
posted by EricGjerde at 10:02 AM on February 7, 2013


Charles Dickens would often do public readings in theatres back in the day. I wonder if any people shouted "PUMBLECHOOK!" as the proto-FREEBIRD of its era.
posted by dr_dank at 10:02 AM on February 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Is it just me or is Amazon talking about pirating their publishers materials? Is this any different than selling copies of MSOffice on the black market?
posted by butterstick at 10:04 AM on February 7, 2013


From the article: the secondary market is the future of the digital space

Ten words worth a billion dollars. If resold for 100 million each. Contact me if you would like to buy this used MeFi comment.
posted by stbalbach at 10:04 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Artificial scarcity: turning solutions into problems since... forever!
posted by blue_beetle at 10:13 AM on February 7, 2013


"...thereby helping to maintain the scarcity of the digital object in the marketplace."

Whoa. They literally wrote market manipulation into their patent.
posted by butterstick at 10:15 AM on February 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


This article is absolute nonsense. There is no evidence presented here that Amazon is contemplating selling used books. All they have is a newly issued patent related to used ebook sales, a patent they filed for in 2009 (or earlier). Tech companies regularly patent any and all ideas they can write down related to their products. A patent filing means nothing about what the company's actual product strategy is.
posted by Nelson at 10:22 AM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Charles Dickens would often do public readings in theatres back in the day.

Yup. Part of the reason being that American publishers pirated his works so he couldn't make money from the huge sales in the American market.
posted by yoink at 10:30 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is there a particularly good reason for it existing in the first place, outside of appeasing terrified publishing houses?

You've got your order backwards there: the terrified publishing houses imposed DRM onto the library vendors which sell institutional copies to libraries and libraries knuckled under. Then they realized that most major publishing houses refuse to sell ebooks to libraries anyway (and attempt to impose ridiculous '26 circs and then we poof your copy and make you pay for another one' or worse yet 'repay for this every year' policies for the ebooks they do sell to libraries) and libraries said 'fuck it, we're not down with this any longer and we're going to fight back.'

Unfortunately, libraries lost the battle on electronic materials and accompanying ridiculous policies (like no inter-library loan and differential pricing which is based on how rapacious the library's negotiators are and bundling together useless material with desired material) in the early '90s at best. We're still recovering from that one.

This new front is not going particularly well, either. Either we pay more money to publishers for e-books than print ones or we fade to irrelevance for our users when we don't have e-format when and how they want it. Libraries don't, as a general rule, have more money and the current vendor system (Overdrive, 3M, ebrary/ProQuest, netlibrary/EBSCO, I'm shit-talking your systems) is absolutely awful for the user to navigate so libraries aren't keen on this either.

As for Amazon, well they've been good to libraries as far as offering discount pricing (versus Baker and Taylor/YBP) but it was a struggle to get the current policy on Kindle lending for libraries. I doubt they'd let libraries re-sell ebooks, for example (which is unfortunate, given that libraries often use booksales to generate a small bit of funding for extras). So, who besides Jeff Bezos knows how this potential service would work--and how it would affect the current library/booksellers/publishers ecosystem?

In my dream world, right of first sale would be granted/restored to e-books.
posted by librarylis at 10:43 AM on February 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


I use Overdrive regularly (Free Library of Philadelphia) and I would not say that it absolutely awful. It is merely somewhat cumbersome. Perhaps it is more challenging for less tech savvy users though.
posted by nolnacs at 10:54 AM on February 7, 2013


Overdrive also won't let public library systems purchase a statewide consortium license; they require that systems agree to "statewide except for your 7 largest counties" instead, presumably so that they can still hit up the largest tax bases for more money after the state has already paid.
posted by CyberSlug Labs at 11:11 AM on February 7, 2013


In my dream world, right of first sale would be granted/restored to e-books.

Yeah, fair enough--but it's still going to need some kind of DRM, no? Otherwise what's to stop me buying a single e-book, reading it, and then onselling a copy to every single library in the world? Without some sort of DRM, how does any author sell more than a single copy of any book?
posted by yoink at 11:31 AM on February 7, 2013


The start-up costs of a DRM-free book publisher are somewhere between those of a lemonade stand and those of a hot-dog cart. If DRM so unnecessary (or even evil?) than surely we'll see such publishers sprout everywhere and authors rush to submit their manuscripts to them...
posted by MattD at 11:40 AM on February 7, 2013


the author still gets paid just as much,

Or just as little, depending on your point of view.

At the same time we've gone from spending $100-200 a month on books to spending $0, and possibly reading more books, so something must be unethical about that, right?

Well, it puts you in the same position as the guy who never pays for the next round at the bar or tips the waiter. I get it, serious readers would go bankrupt if they had to pay full retail for everything they read. But it's a nice gesture to toss a few coins in the hats of those nice people who write and publish the stuff instead of always relying on others to do so.

Part of the reason being that American publishers pirated his works so he couldn't make money from the huge sales in the American market.


True. But he also loved the stage and the sound of his own voice.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:42 AM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


In terms of a used market, I wouldn't worry to much about. Publishers sold authors on accepting print-edition royalties for e-book editions (despite their absence of print and physical distribution process) in no small part on the fact that ebooks would stamp out the scourge (from the author POV) of used sales, which carry no incremental royalty. It is going to be a long time before any significant publisher will authorize a licenses fit for a used ebook market.
posted by MattD at 11:43 AM on February 7, 2013


If DRM so unnecessary (or even evil?) than surely we'll see such publishers sprout everywhere and authors rush to submit their manuscripts to them...

Or we'd might see publishers dropping DRM. Like, for example, Tor.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:07 PM on February 7, 2013


Me fail English? That's unpossible.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:08 PM on February 7, 2013


It is going to be a long time before any significant publisher will authorize a licenses fit for a used ebook market.

There is one publisher I could see doing it... Amazon. It would be add value to Kindle e-books. It might be hard for them to get authors that agree to it, but Amazon might be willing to pay a very small royalty on used copies.
posted by drezdn at 12:08 PM on February 7, 2013


The idea of a "used" ebook makes my brain hurt. The word implies some kind of degradation from earlier use, like with a used car (sorry, "pre-owned"). How can an unchanging electronic file that does nothing but make words appear on a screen be "used"?

"Previously purchased," maybe.
posted by gottabefunky at 12:09 PM on February 7, 2013


"Previously purchased," maybe.

Previously licensed.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:20 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you're interested in a publisher's perspective on this, I'd be happy to offer mine, though I work for a non-profit publisher of the social sciences and humanities, so perhaps I'm a little less evil.

If Amazon begins to sell used ebooks, there are two issues at stake. First, does the first sale doctrine apply to ebooks, and second, how long will publishers continue to allow Amazon to sell any of their books if Amazon, practically an evangelist of the walled garden, changed their mind about the parameters of the Kindle ecosystem. I imagine publishers would revolt against Amazon for making a move like this without the question of first sale resolved. And I think we need a few lawsuits before we can say for sure that first sale applies to ebooks. I don't think the original case, from 1908, applies to digital books. That case basically said, while the publisher owned the rights to the content, they couldn't restrict the distribution of the object, which in that case was a physical book. With digital books, there isn't any object. Even a case like RIAA v. Diamond Multimedia, which is why we can legally rip a CD, made a point to say that what applies to digital doesn't necessarily apply to physical, and vice versa. We can rip a CD because all we're doing is changing the digital format, typically from ACC to MP3. But you don't have a right to sell a live performance you've recorded without permission, for example. And I'm still not sure if technically we have a right to even digitize our own books, at least not the whole book. I'm not saying we shouldn't, I'm just not sure there's the case law out there that we can point to and say, hey, this applies to physical and digital, we're good to go.
posted by Toekneesan at 12:47 PM on February 7, 2013


Also, this just rolled across my desk...
Could a Patent Dispute Take the Kindle Off the Market?
posted by Toekneesan at 1:05 PM on February 7, 2013


Here are the rules I use for myself. I allow myself to break the DRM

When my husband and I were first looking into buying eReaders, I was leaning towards the Kindle-- after all, Amazon was my god and I was buying hundreds of used books from them at the time. My husband argued for the Nook because he read on line that there was no DRM. We were hazy on the DRM but agreed we did not want to buy 2 copies of every book. So we ended up with Nooks.

A few months later, both mothers and my sister-in-law were thinking about buying eBook readers, specifically Kindles. "Get Nooks" we urged. That way we can "loan" you our books. They all did. I now know that by using Calibre I can change an epub file into a mobi file but at the time I didn't know this.

My daughter still hasn't gotten an ebook reader and I would like to get her one for her upcoming birthday. I will probably buy her a glow Nook even though I know Barnes and Noble is headed for bankruptcy. The Kindle with its locked files just doesn't sit well with me and I would rather promote the not-Kindle.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 1:14 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, fair enough--but it's still going to need some kind of DRM, no? Otherwise what's to stop me buying a single e-book, reading it, and then onselling a copy to every single library in the world?

In the specific context of libraries, you're either going to be one person donating a 'used' e-book to one library or you're going to be a vendor selling lots of used e-books to lots of libraries. I don't know how public libraries deal with vendors, but academic libraries are pretty vigilant about asking each other who the newbie is and whether their business model is legal. We don't want to get sued (again) by publishers. If you're just one person and it's just one e-book, you're not going to be selling to your local library, you're going to be donating. Publishers have survived under that model for a hundred years and donation of e-books to libraries is just not where the threat is going to come from.

No, the more interesting question is what will happen to all those dropshippers on Amazon and the e-Bay/Craigslist scammers. Those are the people who the publishers need to fear in the case of a viable 'used' e-book market. Amazon Marketplace, now including e-books? Publishers really would have a reason to be concerned about that.

Truly, though, I sincerely hope that the smart publishers are taking a look at Tor and seeing how their DRM-free books are doing out there in the wild. It would not surprise me in the least if publishers find that the impact to their bottom line if they remove DRM isn't actually as big as they thought.
posted by librarylis at 1:22 PM on February 7, 2013


I'm reading the comments at the OP and this brings up an interesting question
The difference being that the physical book will eventually fall apart and not be sell-able any more. Would there be any end to how many times a digital copy could be resold? Also, the mere fact of having to relocate the physical copy imposes some delay between sales. A digital copy of a book could be re-sold multiple times in a week. I see 'used' ebooks flooding the market. Authors would only make money immediately after a release.
The more I think about "re-selling" digital files, the less sense it makes. The only reason I would ever buy a "used" file from Amazon is that--after it is authenticated so that I know I am getting what I want and not a corrupted file-- I can buy it for a lesser price than the original. If I can buy an exact copy for a smaller price, why would I ever buy an original? With physical books people might not choose to buy used because there is wear and tear to the pages and the binding as well as the possibility of torn dust jacket, writing inside, dog ears and so forth. A "used" file would be as pristine as a new file. So why would you ever buy new?

This makes my brow furrow the more I think about it. Can you resell your music back to iTunes?
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 1:24 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Exactly. When it isn't a physical thing but a digital thing, moving and duplicating it becomes a primary feature. Those are not trivial with a physical thing. Moving books is expensive and exhausting. Transcribing is torture, for those who've actually done it. Therefore perhaps different rules need to apply.
posted by Toekneesan at 1:31 PM on February 7, 2013


The Kindle with its locked files just doesn't sit well with me and I would rather promote the not-Kindle.

Umm... I have both a Nook and a Kindle and I can't see that there's any meaningful difference between them and their ecosystems and their manufacturers so far as DRM goes. Both readers support both DRM-ed and un-DRM-ed content. Most of the e-books being sold by Amazon for the Kindle are DRM-ed, and most of the e-books being sold by Barnes & Noble for the Nook are DRM-ed.

It's obnoxious that Amazon clings to its own format when the rest of the e-book world has settled on the same standard, but there's as much locking on the one side as the other.
posted by Zed at 1:45 PM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


psst...I have some blog comments I want to sell you
(highly favorited metafilter comments are priceless)
posted by bad grammar at 1:59 PM on February 7, 2013


The difference being that the physical book will eventually fall apart and not be sell-able any more.

HarperCollins was on that last year.

Can you resell your music back to iTunes?

There was talk of a company reselling MP3s a few years ago. That may have just been a satire, though. They seemed to disappear after a couple months.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 2:04 PM on February 7, 2013


No, the more interesting question is what will happen to all those dropshippers on Amazon and the e-Bay/Craigslist scammers. Those are the people who the publishers need to fear in the case of a viable 'used' e-book market.

GAWD, tell me about it. The reason we don't let Ingram distro our POD books anymore is because the bastard third party sellers end up having a bidding war and bidding the prices of our books down to nada.

And since we have to offer at least a certain percentage discount in order to do the wholesale distro through Ingram, it just didn't seem worth it when we could set things up and sell them ourselves directly on Amazon Marketplace. Our print margins are horrible enough as it is.

I'm torn on letting people resell their ebooks, though. It makes sense to me on one hand and on the other, I'm trying desperately to keep the company going, and what deprives us of revenue = not cool.

It's another reason we're currently working on a new way to license pieces of our content into different formats, too. To maintain profitability we have to look at all possibilities. We're not Random House-sized here, I'm just trying to earn a living.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 4:41 PM on February 7, 2013


Mefi's Own™ John Scalzi commented about this on his blog here and here.

His opinion boils down to "this is going to suck for writers", "Amazon is going to get its ass sued by everyone on Earth", "Amazon clearly wants to kill the publishers", and "I'd rather people pirate my books than buy them through Amazon if this happens."

The last is the most interesting point. If Amazon is going to resell digital files which can't be "used goods" in any meaningful sense and you're going to buy it without compensating the author or anyone else who put their sweat into making the book, why should Bezos get paid either?
posted by Justinian at 6:56 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


(also a so-called "used" digital file can be resold forever and an infinite number of times. A used book can only be resold to one person and will fall apart after only a few owners if they are typical readers.)
posted by Justinian at 6:57 PM on February 7, 2013


a so-called "used" digital file can be resold forever and an infinite number of times

Exactly. It's an infinite good.

This is a good thing, unless your business model is based on publishing finite goods. Then you start to think of all the ways you can limit your customers' ability to utilize those goods. And that's where shit starts to go off the rails.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:11 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or based upon creating content which can be turned into an infinite good. Or editing said content. Recording it. And so on. It isn't just the publishers this affects, it's the authors, artists, editors, and everyone else.
posted by Justinian at 10:41 PM on February 7, 2013


Upon reflection, I think the disconnect a lot of us have on this issue hinges on whether you believe that when you are buying an ebook you are paying an author, editor, publisher, and retailer for a bunch of arbitrary 1s and 0s stored on some sort of physical media, or whether you are paying an author, editor, publisher, and retailer for the time they spent creating that bunch of arbitrary 1s and 0s.

The 1s and 0s are infinite. The time spent creating it certainly is not. The value of that collection of 1s and 0s is not in the small file which contains it, but in the labor of those who created it. OH GOD AM I BECOMING A MARXIST.
posted by Justinian at 12:04 AM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


The value of that collection of 1s and 0s is not in the small file which contains it, but in the labor of those who created it.

Don't confuse value and cost. I value my air quite a bit, but pay nothing.

The trick now is to find the value elsewhere. Incentive to produce new works is a big one. (We used to call it Patronage, now we call it Kickstarter.) Live performance is another (even in the historical blip that was the distribution business, that's how most performing artists made their cash.) There are many more that we're still figuring out.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:12 PM on February 8, 2013


Don't confuse value and cost. I value my air quite a bit, but pay nothing.

But the price of something has never been based solely on the unit cost of production. The cost of the material in a Pollock canvas is what, $40? But people pay many orders of magnitude more for it. Similarly, the unit cost of an ebook is negligible. But that doesn't mean the price needs to be negligible.
posted by Justinian at 12:46 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


To continue my leftist radicalization, the reason you pay nothing for air is that no-one owns it and no-one has put any labor into producing it. If you lived on a space station where the air you breathe needs to be manufactured either mechanically or through biological process you would absolutely be paying for your air. Because despite an oxygen molecule in a space habitat being exactly the same as an oxygen molecule in Earth's atmosphere the fair price for them is vastly different.
posted by Justinian at 12:54 PM on February 8, 2013


But the price of something has never been based solely on the unit cost of production. The cost of the material in a Pollock canvas is what, $40? But people pay many orders of magnitude more for it.

Exclusivity. Pollock produced one of each. If he were able to produce dozens of the exact same painting, the price of each would drop. If he produced infinite copies of a canvas, the price would approach zero.

...an oxygen molecule in a space habitat being exactly the same as an oxygen molecule in Earth's atmosphere the fair price for them is vastly different.

The value is the same, the cost is vastly different. The air on Earth is (effectively) infinite. Not true on a space station.

The problem is that we've left the space station behind and are walking about on Earth, but there's an entrenched Air Rights conglomerate that insists that they still get paid.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 1:46 PM on February 8, 2013


Exclusivity. Pollock produced one of each. If he were able to produce dozens of the exact same painting, the price of each would drop. If he produced infinite copies of a canvas, the price would approach zero.

But if it ever became zero, he would make no money at all, no matter how many copies he sold.

Nor does volume pricing really have all that much relevance to the price of books. If you spend a year of your life writing a serious novel, chances are that your potential market doesn't expand all that much as the price drops. Take away the per-volume price represented by old-tech elements like paper, printing and so forth and you haven't actually, made all that much of a dent in the price. And why, exactly, should any other part of the price drop? Halving the per-book amount that goes to the author is very, very unlikely to double the total quantity sold. And even if it would, why isn't that the author's/publisher's decision to make? They put the work in, why isn't it their decision how they go about seeking compensation for that work? Why do I get to say "I don't like your pricing strategy, so I'll just take it for free"?
posted by yoink at 2:01 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why do I get to say "I don't like your pricing strategy, so I'll just take it for free"?

I frequently get to say it because the local public library is very good.
posted by Zed at 2:25 PM on February 8, 2013


I frequently get to say it because the local public library is very good.

And your local public library stole the books it holds?
posted by yoink at 2:35 PM on February 8, 2013


Not sure. They seem like a shifty lot.
posted by Zed at 2:54 PM on February 8, 2013


As usual there are two different arguments. One is what people deserve to get paid for their work on a book or ebook. The second is what people actually will get paid given the march of technology. It may be that enough folks are selfish enough that what people actually will get paid is going to end up being near zero, but I still think it's worth making the point that they should be compensated for their labor. If someone put time and labor into their work and wants recompense for their labor, you should give them what they ask for if you want their product. Or, if they are asking too much money, go without. But unilaterally deciding not to compensate them is not something they deserve.

But I suppose that as Eastwood says in Unforgiven deserve's got nothin' to do with it.
posted by Justinian at 4:44 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Take away the per-volume price represented by old-tech elements like paper...

And you've taken away the part the market cares about.

They put the work in, why isn't it their decision how they go about seeking compensation for that work?

They're perfectly able to do just that. What the result of that is, perhaps unfortunately, is another matter.

The Beatles refused to put their music online until just recently. That didn't make it much harder to *find* online, of course, but apparently they thought better of their music's value because of it. So, they had that going for them.

The bigger concern is government's increasing willingness to act as enforcers in trying to make infinite goods behave more like finite ones. The fact that this can *only* be achieved by omnipresent surveillance is likely not coincidental.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 4:45 PM on February 8, 2013


If someone put time and labor into their work and wants recompense for their labor, you should give them what they ask for if you want their product. Or, if they are asking too much money, go without.

So, there should be an arbitrary tax on culture?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 4:47 PM on February 8, 2013


So, there should be an arbitrary tax on culture?

No, there should be a reasonable incentive for people to produce cultural products.

And you've taken away the part the market cares about.

That argument is unbelievably and hilariously wrong. Take a simple example: wine. Do you think it costs more to bottle and ship a $20 wine than a $2 wine? Of course not. Same size bottle, same amount of contents, same shipping distance. Does "the market" insist that all wine must cost the same amount? No, it does not. Does it insist that it be allowed to steal all wines that cost more than $2? No, it does not. QED.

They're perfectly able to do just that. What the result of that is, perhaps unfortunately, is another matter.

The question is what people have the right to do. If you agree with me that it is morally wrong to take music for free online in defiance of the creator's wishes then fine; the argument about whether societal attitudes can be changed is a separate argument.

What I don't understand is how people think there's some logical move from "well, people are such selfish pricks they'll always take stuff for free if they can" to "it's obviously o.k. for me to take stuff for free, because hey, I can, and lots of other people do too!"
posted by yoink at 4:57 PM on February 8, 2013


there should be a reasonable incentive for people to produce cultural products

So how much is a poem worth these days? Who decides? If I send a haiku to my GF, should some entity inspect it to see if it's infringing?

Does "the market" insist that all wine must cost the same amount? No, it does not.

Again, there's a difference between finite and infinite goods. But that's a good example of adding value through quality, marketing, and/or exclusivity. (The last is not readily available with infinite goods.)

The question is what people have the right to do.

We agree there.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 5:09 PM on February 8, 2013


But that's a good example of adding value through quality, marketing, and/or exclusivity. (The last is not readily available with infinite goods.)

"Exclusivity" is not available, but "quality" and "marketing" are. The argument you linked to was one that said the market cares only about distribution costs and does not and should not care about production costs. That is clearly a false and even flagrantly stupid and self-serving argument.

If I send a haiku to my GF, should some entity inspect it to see if it's infringing?

Has anyone ever suggested that there should be some entity that inspects the haikus you send your girlfriend?

As far as I can tell the inevitable drift of all arguments about reasonable copyright protection to "OMG, you want jackbooted Nazis to rifle through my most private and secret thoughts!" is a pretty sure sign of the moral bankruptcy of the "information wants to be free, man" position.
posted by yoink at 5:27 PM on February 8, 2013


The argument you linked to was one that said the market cares only about distribution costs and does not and should not care about production costs. That is clearly a false and even flagrantly stupid and self-serving argument.

Um, OK. Ignore it then. Just like the Beatles did. Increase your value.

As far as I can tell the inevitable drift of all arguments about reasonable copyright protection to "OMG, you want jackbooted Nazis to rifle through my most private and secret thoughts!"

If the shoe fits....
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 5:58 PM on February 8, 2013


the moral bankruptcy of the "information wants to be free, man" position.

Has anyone actually said that unironically since the '90's?
posted by Zed at 5:44 PM on February 9, 2013


The phrase is misunderstood and is generally applied in the "information should be free sense by not-very-thoughtful people. Here's the full quote, from Stewart Brand
On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.
posted by Nelson at 7:26 PM on February 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


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