Here we go again.
ReadWriteWeb reports on ReDigi, a new startup that plans to allow people to resell their pre-owned digital music. This is an idea whose time has come…and gone, and come and gone again, without ever getting any farther than being an idea.
Of course, digital media can’t really be “resold” the way that physical media can. Since the act of transferring a digital file creates a copy, a copy of the “sold” music will still reside on the original purchaser’s hard drive unless some form of DRM enforces it being deleted (as is the case with “checked out” library e-books).
This has made the idea of “reselling” such media a thorny problem at best, and technically impossible at worst. That hasn’t stopped a lot of companies from trying, however. A lot of people have complained about not having the ability to get some cash back for digital stuff they bought but no longer want, so these companies have tried to figure out ways to meet that demand. So far, not one of them has had much luck with it.
Back in 2008, a company with the unlikely name of Bopaboo (which really sounds like a pet name a mother might give her baby) tried to set up to resell music, offering music publishers a cut of the resell proceeds. As I mentioned last year, it didn’t get very far.
Last year, Lexink wanted to permit resale of digital media using its UNLODER solution. Unlike Bopaboo’s, the Lexink website and even the UNLODER page on it are still up, but despite the page offering a nifty-sounding explanation of how UNLODER would let you trade your digital media in, it doesn’t offer consumers any way to get started with it. All it says is, “For more information contact Mr. Muller, VP for techology development at Lexink.” In fact, a quick Google search on UNLODER doesn’t turn up any results more recent than June, 2010, which was when we covered it, so I’d say it’s pretty safe to assume that one’s gone nowhere too.
Also last year, a working group of the IEEE began trying to create a standard to allow the use of specialized DRM to create “Digital Personal Property”, electronic files that could be resold just like “real” property. The chair of the group, Paul Sweazey, was kind enough to come to the discussion that followed our coverage of it and add some explanation of just what the group was trying to accomplish, though not many TeleReaders were convinced. According to its website now, the IEEE group has met four times so far, but it doesn’t seem to be close to bringing sweeping change to the industry just yet.
Which brings us to ReDigi and its current plan to succeed where others have failed. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of acknowledgement of these past failures, however, or any explanation of how or why ReDigi will succeed where Bopaboo and Lexink have failed. It does acknowledge the legal issues involved in reselling digital content, but does not seem too concerned about them.
ReDigi says it has come up with a technological solution to this problem, although it hasn’t released details of exactly how this transfer will work. It also claims that it’s "figured out what could be done to legally ensure that consumers regain the freedom to manage their own personal music collections." Details are scarce there too.
Another article from Hypebot suggests that, like Bopaboo, ReDigi plans to win the record industry’s support by offering them a piece of the used-resale pie. I said this back when I first covered Lexink’s plans, and I believe it still holds true today: As much as content publishers hate the used resale industry for physical objects, I have a hard time believing they’d want to let one get started for electronic items, too. Why would a record label be content with a slice of a resold mp3 when, in their minds, they could get a larger cut when that person bought a “new” mp3 instead?
I harbor slightly more hope for the IEEE group, since if it does manage to come up with something, it will at least be a standard that could be adopted by the whole industry. But somehow, I just don’t see it. The record and publishing industries have only tried to make digital media act like physical media if it was advantageous for them to do so (for example, HarperCollins’s recent imposition of limits on library lending of its e-books). Given that many publishers would not shed a tear if every single used bookstore in the world disappeared overnight, I just don’t see this happening.
If people want to “get something back” for e-books, it’s going to have to be up front in the form of lower prices than hardcovers, which in many cases they already have. Let buying a new hardcover book for $20 and selling it used for $10 be equivalent to just buying an e-book for $10 in the first place. Used e-media sales are never going to happen.