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The end of second-hand books and music

27 May 2016

The scrapping of physical media as a method of delivering books, music and movies is threatening to destroy the second-hand market for such content.

Until recently, books were things printed on paper, music was stored on a disk made from vinyl or plastic and movies were found on tape or plastic disk. Now however, not so much.

The sales of content stored on physical media are plummeting, as people opt instead for streamed or downloadable content -- much of which comes with some form of DRM designed to stop it being redistributed without permission of the copyright owner.

That's all fine and dandy -- until you decide you want to sell the stuff you no longer want.

Back in the pre-internet era, selling your old content was easy and because of this, the collection of records, CDs, books and DVDs you had was very much a realisable asset. Something that could be turned into cold, hard cash if or when the need arose.

Every town and city in the country had a collection of small stores that would trade in second-hand music, books and movies. Often there were some really good deals to be had there.

Second-hand books are a passion for many people and your entertainment dollar goes a lot further when you're browsing the bins of a second-hand music store. What's more, it seems only fair that if you buy something you should also be allowed to sell it if you want.

Sadly, that's not the way the recording, publishing and movie industries are thinking in the 21st century.

The shift away from physical media means that you're no longer allowed or able to sell the content you have legitimately purchased with your hard-earned money. DRM and EULAs ensure this.

In the old days, if you'd spent a few thousand dollars amassing a collection of records, books or movies, you could almost guarantee that you'd get at least a quarter to a third of that money back if you flogged them to a store that traded in such commodities. Today -- well in most cases, you won't get a bean.

I also recall that when I was a teenager, we'd regularly trade cassette tapes or records with friends -- swapping the music we were tiring of for music we had just been introduced to. It was all legal and legit. It was a part of life and meant that many of us expanded our musical horizons and actually wound up buying more music as a result.

Today, your digital content tends to be locked to a device or a person. Although I'm not an iTunes user, I'd doubt whether you can transfer a tune you'd paid for from your phone to a friends -- but I could be wrong there.

And what happens when you die?

Back in the 20th century, those folk who had built up huge collections of books would often have them sold or handed on to their descendants upon their death. This meant that those books would continue bringing joy to people for many more generations. These days, what happens to your ebooks when you die? Do they effectively vanish into the ether?

Before the internet became the distribution medium for this content, purchasing a book, record, CD or DVD effectively gave you a transferable license to use that content for your own enjoyment. These days, the license seems to have been changed to a non-transferable one that expires upon your death. That sounds like a pretty raw deal to me.

Are we seeing a resulting reduction in price?

It would seem not.

In fact, once you take out the not-insignificant overheads involved in pressing disks, warehousing, transporting and providing retailers with a healthy margin, it would seem that the actual cost of this non-transferable license earns the copyright holders even more money than they used to in the day of the disk. As a consumer, you're effectively paying more for much less.

Is it any wonder that some people pirate their music, movies and ebooks when the content owners have made such a drastic change to the licensing terms during the transition from physical media to downloads?

Or could it be that, given the ubiquitous nature of the Net and the massive rise in streaming services, it's no longer necessary to actually possess a copy of anything?

Might it be that copyright owners will soon remove the right for you to hold anything other than the transient cached copies associated with streaming?

Possession of a copy of a copyrighted ebook, movie or music track may eventually become a crime -- the rationale being that you no longer *need* to have such a thing in your possession and therefore only pirates will have them.

Scary -- or just a paradigm shift that we'll all end up accepting?

Whatever the outcome, it's looking as if second-hand book and music stores are about to go the way of the dodo.

That saddens me (but I *am* very old).

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