The debate over digital resale continues, this time at the IDPF 2013 Digital Book Conference in a panel called “When Is a Sale Not a Sale? Selling vs. Licensing Digital Content,” featuring a familiar set of debaters, including ReDigi CEO John Ossenmacher, Authors Guild executive director Paul Aiken, and digital media consultant Bill Rosenblatt.
Despite a series of court rulings against the concept of digital first-sale rights, ReDigi’s Ossenmacher was on hand to continue to make the case for the practice. ReDigi—a firm that offers a digital resale market for music and is looking to add e-books—allows customers to sell their used digital files (and offers publishers a royalty on the sales), but the proceeds can only be used within the digital economy of ReDigi. Consumers cannot, say, resell old music files and use the money to buy a hamburger. Accordingly Ossenmacher made the case that ReDigi is helping the music business and will do the same for publishers. Indeed, Ossenmacher claims, “Our resellers sell, but they want to get new goods with the funds.” He even claims that “people are buying albums on ReDigi, because they know they can get their money back” after listening to the album. Ossenmacher says that a secondary market in e-books is what consumers want, “and when consumers win, everyone wins.”
However, Rosenblatt, a longtime critic of ReDigi and the whole concept of a “used” e-book market, believes a used-digital marketplace would lead to a “loss leader” pricing model that would drive the price of an e-book to zero. But he said that if publishers want a used e-book market they need to start it now, in order “to establish a precedent for value rather than basing all this on an abstract theory” of what will happen.
Aiken, who noted that it was the 100th anniversary of the Authors Guild, made the case that if there were a legal resale market, it would destroy any incentive to fund serious books and will undermine the primary book market. “This should be left to Congress,” he said. However, he did agree that if publishers want to start a secondary market they should do so. “If authors and publishers want to do it, fine, but trying to do it [with ReDigi] under current law is not how to do it.”
Undaunted, Ossenmacher replied, “Businesses shouldn’t wait for the government to decide about digital resale. If you wait for the government, publishers will be left out, like you were when first sale doctrine was first enacted.” Ossenmacher emphasized, “Digital resale is coming, the market is too big, and there’s a lot of money to be made.”