Amazon has just been awarded a patent for an "electronic marketplace for used digital objects". The patent looks fairly broad to me, and covers more than just ebooks. The abstract mentions "e-books, audio, video, computer applications" and that tells me that Amazon s not thinking small.
The patent was originally filed in 2009, and it describes not just the sale and or loan process but also the possibility that Amazon or the copyright holder might set a limit on the number of times a piece of content might be transferred:
an object move threshold ("OMT") may be set. The OMT may limit the number of transfers of a used digital object to other personalized data stores when the used digital object has been moved more than a threshold number of times, thereby helping to maintain the scarcity of the digital object in the marketplace. For example, a popular used digital object such as a song may have an OMT of three, only allowing three permissible moves of the song to other personalized data stores. After the OMT is reached, the used digital object is no longer permissibly moveable to another personalized data store.
That last detail has already been implemented as part of Amazon's current lending feature where a title can only be lent once and only if the copyright holder enables it. But the way it is described here suggests that Amazon is also thinking about limiting the number of times a title could be sold.
The patent also mentions that the restrictions could vary based on user data. For example Prime Members could possibly be allowed to sell or resell a piece of content more times than a regular Amazon customer. Or a college student signed up with Amazon Student might have special options for reselling his Kindle textbook.
In any case, Amazon is clearly thinking about the next stage of the ebook market (and doing it years ahead of everyone else). While a lot of publishers are basing their future plans on certain assumptions like ebooks cannot be resold (that's why digital textbooks are hot right now), Amazon is planning for the day when ebooks will be sold as used goods.
And even if Amazon doesn't decide to get into the used digital content market they can still use this patent as a carrot for publishers. It can be used to block Amazon's competition from setting up a service to sell used ebooks, something that I'm sure some publishers would desperately be interested in.
image by karen horton