I began writing this as part of the review of eReader that I posted earlier, brought on by thinking about eReader and Stanza’s failure to get high-resolution iPad versions, but I thought that it deserved its own separate post.

Make no mistake, there has been a certain amount of anti-corporate paranoia going around about smaller, much-beloved e-book companies bought up by larger corporations ever since MobiPocket planned to release an iPhone version of its reader but was allegedly stifled by its new owner Amazon.

Just look at what happened when Stanza vanished from the app store for a few hours last month due to a “technical glitch”. A number of people, myself included, were absolutely certain that its new owner Amazon had decided to kill it for good. (Of course, we all looked pretty silly when it came back again shortly afterward.)

Still, it’s hard to look at this and see anything but a repeat of the same old pattern: the parent company might be content to let its new subsidiary continue on as it is for a while with “no interference”, but doesn’t see the point in wasting more resources to let the subsidiary compete with it when the next big thing comes along.

Case in point: Steve Pendergrast used to be a regular commenter on TeleRead, and even called me up about an impending Linux version of eReader (which subsequently never materialized) a little over a year ago. Since the acquisition, however, he hasn’t posted here anymore and it has not been possible to speak to him.

I have been trying to arrange to interview Steve via Barnes & Noble’s publicity department since January—but when I finally managed to get someone on the line, she informed me that Steve wouldn’t be allowed to answer questions about eReader’s development anyway, as it was B&N policy not to discuss such “strategic” matters. An e-mail to Scott Pendergrast’s PR address at Fictionwise also went unanswered.

Combined with Fictionwise’s recent termination of its Buywise discount club (in the wake of the implementation of agency pricing, which does not allow for such discounts), this does not speak well to the future of the Fictionwise and eReader stores.

Already under siege from the vastly better-known Amazon, Apple, and to an extent Barnes & Noble and Sony e-book stores, how can they continue to compete if what readership they have left moves on to the iPad where their e-books now look pretty lousy?

For me, this comes down to decision that is somewhat hearbreaking. Up to this point, almost all my DRM’d e-book purchases came from eReader. Their format looked nice on my devices, and their DRM simply didn’t get in the way, and I wanted to keep my DRM library consolidated in as few formats as possible just so I didn’t have to guess where the book I wanted to read was.

But if their e-books are going to look lousy on my iPad, and the other high-resolution devices that are surely coming, I’m going to have to look somewhere else.

In terms of cross-device readability and price, Amazon Kindle e-books are starting to look like the next best thing.


  1. FW has also killed their long time Yahoo group instead telling folks to go to the B&N community site. Not to mention for the past year or more they’ve been horrible about having new releases on time (& CS responses).

    I wonder if FW won’t change into selling only their Multi-Format books (which come from all kinds of smaller publishers) and turn into more of a distributor (for those smaller pubs) and be part of B&N’s publishing arm or something. For some of those small pubs it’s the only way to get their books (even if a lot of the multiformat books have crappy formatting) as some don’t sell direct (or only sell PDF direct) and even if you can get them from the pub itself a lot only give you one format and no bookshelf/library for re-download.

  2. Also if FW were to go away the magazine’s they offer as part of the multiformat stuff would be missed. Hopefully if B&N kills them off as a bookseller they’ll do something with the multiformat end of things.

  3. Having watched the slow death of Mobipocket and now Stanza, both due to Amazon, I fear for Fictionwise.

    For a while, it looked like Fictionwise was continuing largely as before the B&N purchase, but the lack of plans for an iPad app does not bode well.

    I have a large Fictionwise Bookshelf. Many of the books are already useless to me — they are in protected Mobipocket format. I read them on Pocket PC’s and then on an iRex Iliad, which has now died (and lost support before that). Since then, I had been purchasing Fictionwise books in the eReader format, with the feeling that it was more future-proof, since it was not tied to a specific device ID. Now it looks like I may have problems again.

  4. Re: the Linux release of ereader software.

    While I don’t see the link at the Fictionwise site, you’ll find a link at ereader.com to download a version of the software for Ubuntu Linux; it’s marked as a beta, but it’s there. If we’re lucky there’s still some life in FW/EReader.

    I hope so, anyway, because my bookshelves at these stores come to over 1400 items.

    Bests to all,


  5. They have definitely declined since the B&N takeover. I am a VERY disappointed customer. I think that in addition to the CS issues, they are backing the eReader format which is a dead horse. I only buy epub now, it looks way better and it is easier to convert and use on more than one device.

  6. It’s been circling small press for almost a year, that at B&N’s take over, they would be closing at the end of the first quarter. Then when it looked like they may hold on, they nixed that hope by cancelling their club.

    Fictionwise will eventually do one of two things: 1) become a portal for B&N, or 2) completely shut down.

    Save your books. Calibre can convert (almost) anything at this point.

  7. Hi, thanks for posting this. I have been wondering what the next step is for ebook distributors. I’m in the camp of people who would rather not have to have a different device for every book format around. I buy from Fictionwise because they have the multiple format option and great books.

    I also got into the buywise club just before they cancelled it.

    I use my ipod touch as a reader which is working well. Although I have e-ink envy when I see those devices.


  8. I’m sorry to see the changes occurring at FW. I enjoy their multiformat options. To those of you with a large DRM library at FW, I guess you will need to become criminals and strip the DRM or forfeit your library. Feel free to join those of us who became criminals along time ago by removing the DRM upon purchasing those books.

  9. See, a year and a half ago Scott or Steve would be posting a reply to an article like this reassuring their loyal customers. Now, nobody talks to them unless it’s through a PR flunkie from the mothership at B&N and they don’t seem to really care how the customers feel anymore.

  10. I doubt they stopped caring how the customers feel — but they’re not in charge any more, and if B&N says that B&N’s going to do all the talking (if any) then Scott and Steve can’t overrule the mothership.



  11. I find it very frustrating that while other ebook sites have made agency deals, and communicated with their customers, Fictionwise is no longer doing so. When the overdrive fiasco occurred, Fictionwise was very proactive about communicating what was going on, and how they were addressing it.

    One positive sign is that some books that were unavailable for download a few weeks ago are now available for download again, however you still can’t purchase anything from the 5 agency model publishers. I’m about to start switching to Kindle or Kobo books, which is a shame, I’ve been a loyal Fictionwise customer for years with over a thousand books purchased.

    In the meantime I’m going to make sure to download all of my books to ensure I have copy in case they become unavailable again.

  12. I started as a Peanut Reader –> Palm Reader –> eReader customer, so there was a noticeable decline at eReader.com when FW took over, but I had hope for the eReader format when B&N bought it and announced the Nook. so I continue buying it for my iPhone, mostly at FW because they gutted the eReader discount program.

    But after 3 weeks of losing the Big 5, *with no communication* AND B&N shifting to using ePub more on the Nook, I think eReader format is on it’s deathbed.

    And I’m not sure where to go next for the ease of use – not everyone has the time, know-how or is comfortable with DRM stripping.

  13. Now would be a good time to back up any e-books you have purchased from Fictionwise or eReader.com. Many can no longer be downloaded, so round up the copies you have downloaded in the past and burn them to a CD or DVD. Also, you may want to consider backing up your library on Microsoft’s free SkyDrive service, which David Pogue recently wrote about on nytimes.com. What’s happening to Fictionwise is sad, and it is going to leave a lot of e-book fans with a very unfavorable opinion of Barnes & Noble. In any case, I have reached the same conclusion Chris Meadows comes to in this piece: that Kindle e-books are the next best thing. I hope that Steve and Scott got rich when they sold their company. They deserve it, and although they’re now gagged by B&N they’re probably sad to see their old customers getting such shabby treatment. Maybe we’ll get the inside story someday in a Kindle exclusive.

  14. Below is a recent response I received from eReader CS regarding product availability:
    Due to industry changes, our content suppliers are currently unable to offer certain titles from several large publishers. We are working with our content partners to resolve this.
    Best Regards,
    eReader.com Support Team

    You wrote:
    I can’t find any more books by JD Robb. Is that author no longer available through ereader?

  15. I don’t want to buy a Kindle or an iPad or ANY dedicated reading device! I love reading on my Windows Mobile devices and I have a pile of them. I also own thousands of ebooks and am perfectly satisfied with eReader (it looks great on my HTC Imagio). I don’t mind paying for an ebook but once I have I don’t want any device lock-in. I’m hoping that the publishers and suppliers don’t abandon the ereader format because they think the market is too small. In the meantime I’ll use the library – the only way I will read physical books is by borrowing them.

  16. I agree with Kathryn. And I prefer to buy from fictionwise or other bookstores that allow me to pay with paypal or other echeck for drm-protected software so I don’t put the purchase on the credit card.

    I’ve always thought it a pity there wasn’t a version of the ereader software that works on nintendos. That’s a large ready-made device market!

  17. Like others here, I was caught with hundreds of Secure Mobipocket ebooks when Amazon bought and shelved Mobipocket, and now I have hundreds of Secure eReader ebooks with an uncertain future. Like others, I chose the eReader format because Fictionwise/eReader explicitly supported it (and it had survived Amazon, at that point). This Security does not seem to protect the customer.

    I do feel sad to see Fictionwise go. It’s been a terrific site, an excellent portal for indie publishers and magazines, and its discount program has been very effective. Will it be replaced by something better, or just something with a bigger stick?

    Stanza is also a major loss. It’s a very well-designed ebook toolbox, certainly on the iPhone and OSX. Honestly, in my efforts to find ebooks I’m _allowed_ to buy, recently, I’ve collected so many ebook readers and storefronts that I actually need a database to keep track of them.

    What next? Even now, is someone sneaking up behind Calibre’s developer with a brown envelope of cash and a ball gag?

  18. This debacle continues to be very frustrating for those of us reading on a Droid, too. It is very hard to read any of the “big 5”. The Fictionwise ereader format was ideal, but now there is so much less to buy.

    There is a Kobo epub app for Droid, however, the formatting is a little shabby and the books don’t actually get downloaded–more like streamed. I can’t even save a file to my computer on some of their books–they are not all available for backup. I hate spending the kind of money they are asking and not even owning a copy of book I bought.

    BN books are a crapshoot–they don’t tell you ahead of time which format you will get when you purchase. You might get DRM pdb or DRM epub and I guess half the fun is supposed to be finding out which one they decide you are worthy of after they take your money. If I am lucky and get a pdb, I can sideload it to my phone and use the ereader software. If I get an epub, I have to read it on my computer screen because BN doesn’t have an app for Droid yet.

    I may have to consider a life of crime.

  19. I read books on a really small laptop (UMID mBook) and have been a FW customer for years. When it became impossible to get current releases from some of my favorite authors I decided to try B&N ebooks. The first purchase went well and I was able to select the pdb format. Then on my next purchase (2-weeks later) all the books were now in the epub format and could only be read by the B&N epub reader. Well doesn’t that just suck. But the real kicker was what I discovered when I re-downloaded the 2 books I had previously purchased; both had been converted from pdb to epub. So now I’m ticked at B&N and am left to wonder where to buy my ebooks at. I don’t want a dedicated ereader, I like my little laptop. Sigh…

  20. No distributor, eReader included, can expect to survive unless they produce quality product. So they well wither.
    There is plenty of scope for small distributors of ebooks in the future imho. The big sites will never be able to give discerning readers looking for non-best-sellers prominence the good reviews/feedback and previews that a smaller site that focuses on genres, styles, indies etc can.

  21. @Howard: The Agency Model makes it very difficult for small resellers. At the moment, the only e-book stores in the US and Canada that carry e-books from all of the ‘Big 6’ trade publishers are Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Sony, and Kobo.

    Apple chooses not to carry Random House because RH won’t do Agency Model.

    Macmillan e-books aren’t available from any smaller e-book stores. The five named above are the only ones (that I know of) that carry Macmillan e-books. Look for Janet Evanovich’s latest Stephanie Plum titles like “Sizzling Sixteen”.

    Books-a-Million just opened their e-book store. That’s a company with a bit of clout. But right now, they aren’t carrying Macmillan, Hachette, or Penguin e-books.

    The contract negotiations and the software systems complexities for the Agency Model are killer.

    The article that we’re commenting on was about Fictionwise and eReader. Right now, they’re among the many small e-book stores that still don’t have any ‘Agency 5’ titles in stock.

    Google Editions has been saying that they will be able to supply small e-book stores. If so, that could really improve this situation.

  22. Your point is made Doug and I agree as far as big sellers go. But this industry is in it’s infancy and the focus is on the mega sellers, naturally. Over the coming couple of years the market will mature and the customer base will expand enormously. This will offer the small seller the opportunity to create smaller, genre driven niche selling agencies imho. And don’t imagine that B&N, for example, will get away with only allowing one seller to carry their ebooks and the same with other publishers. It ain’t going to happen.
    Also remember that the big publisher model is a thing of the past.
    E-publishing is blowing open the doors to self publishing and smaller publishing house opportunities. I see a huge shift in the whole business model coming down the line very soon.

  23. Wow,

    After reading these comments I feel absolutely disgusted about the current situation at FW. Why should loyal customers even have to consider a life of crime? Stripping DRM should not even be something that any customer should have to consider because books should be available to you to read on whatever device you move to. Surely that should be your choice as a customer?

    There is not much that can be done for FW so alas, download all you books now!!! I used to use Mobipocket on my PDA. However, in Sept 2009 I decided maybe I needed I should stop start to look around. Nov 2010 I purchased a dedicated device. The words I thought would never leave my lips. The decline of FW and the limited availablity of books due to Geographical Restrictions sent me over the edge..

    I hope ebook readers everywhere can find alternatives even if you have to go to the dark side.


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