UK-based publishing consultant Paul Coyne asked a good question on LinkedIn: Can e-books ever support a secondary (second-hand) market?

I love books. And eBooks. However, many of my books are second hand from booksellers, car-boot sales and friends. How important is this secondary market to books and can ebooks ever really go mainstream without a secondary market? BTW I have no clue how this would work!

I offered the following thoughts…

Great question. The secondary market is incredibly important to the buyer of course, and perhaps a blessing and a curse to the publisher–a blessing because it creates more value in the buyer’s mind and a curse because it slows and eliminates some sales in markets like college and school book publishing.

One of the great ongoing questions about eBooks is price point. There is a growing feeling they should be very inexpensive compared to their print counterparts, both because of the perception they are less costly to produce and the reality that there is no current secondary market. Thus you see Amazon trying to get all Kindle books under $10 (US).

I still like the idea of superdistribution for digital products. By my crude definition (some authoritative links in a moment), a buyer of an eBook would be able to pass along the eBook and gain something from the eventual use of it by another user. Think of it as me getting a small commission when someone I pass it along to ends up buying it. I guess you could also think about it as a kind of viral sales model.

See also:

A decent Wikipedia entry on superdistribution.
An old but well written Wired
magazine article on superdistribution.

We covered this in a DRM book I cowrote with Bill Rosenblatt and Steve Mooney.

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