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Coming Soon: A Market for Used E-Books: Amazon.com, Inc. (AMZN), Apple Inc. (AAPL)

What if you could throw a yard sale to get rid of your old digital content? Songs, e-books, games, movies — all that stuff you downloaded forever ago but don’t really use anymore?

Right now, it’s just not practical, or legal, to sell the digital content we’ve amassed over the years. The terms we agree to when we download the stuff tell us that we’re technically renting it anyway. And even if we could legally sell our used songs or books, there’s no good way to actually transfer ownership to a willing buyer.

But Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) and Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) are busy trying to change all that.

Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN)Digital marketplaces
Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) received a patent in January to set up a “secondary market for digital objects.” According to the filing, the company could create an electronic marketplace where users have the option to give up their rights to the content they’ve purchased, and to transfer those rights to someone else. In other words, they could sell used digital content just like they can hawk their stuff in the physical marketplace.

And Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) just last week received a patent along those same lines. The Mac maker’s filing imagines a digital bazaar where users can sell previously owned stuff, with a portion of the proceeds going to the creator or publisher. A cut could also go to the original seller, of course, which in this case would be Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL).

Almost like new
But I’m sure both companies see the potential for profits here. After all, the market for used physical goods is massive. eBay Inc (NASDAQ:EBAY) built its gigantic marketplace around the sale of secondhand goods. And while that’s less of a focus for the company now, it still lists more than 350 million items, many of which are slightly used or refurbished. Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) has its own thriving business for used products offered by third-party sellers. People value the freedom to trade in their wares and grab a portion of the purchase price back after they’re done with them.

That’s just as true for previously owned video games. GameStop Corp. (NYSE:GME) makes a killing on used gaming software and hardware. Those products accounted for 18% of the retailer’s revenue last quarter, but a whopping 39% of its gross profit.

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