We reported yesterday on the sad news that e-book pioneer Fictionwise will be shutting down at the end of the year. I feel very bittersweet about this. The sweet is that I’m very proud of the revolution that little company started, and I love that e-books are a commonplace, normal thing, and that devices have evolved into cool little gadgets you can affordably buy at just about any chain store.
The bitter, of course, is that it didn’t have to end this way. Fictionwise never recovered from the one-two blow of agency pricing and its sale to Barnes & Noble. Its letter, published yesterday, points out that there has been declining interest in the formats they sell. But it was the company’s choice not to evolve and sell new formats, and not to grow into new markets. Barnes & Noble seemed to plan from day one to sacrifice Fictionwise for the sake of its own store. So, what’s wrong with that?
What’s wrong is that Barnes & Noble remains a defiantly American company, whereas Fictionwise remained—even after it joined Team B&N—decidedly more open. Customers from the U.S. and the UK can transfer their Fictionwise books to a Nook account (and in the process, get them upgraded to the better EPUB format), while customers not from those two markets are stuck with downloading their legacy books and reading them on software nobody supports anymore, until their devices eventually break and they lose those books forever.
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As for Canadians, we’re doubly screwed. Bill C-11, which passed here just recently, now forbids breaking digital locks, even to exercise fair use. Out of the 400-odd Fictionwise books I’ve purchased over the years, nearly half are in the secure eReader format. While my American sister gets hers upgraded to EPUB for free when she moves her account over to the Nook store, I’ll be breaking the law if I download mine while I still can, and then use an unlocking tool to free the book and make it readable.
How is that fair?
As I wrote in my initial post about Bill C-11, I am not against creators getting compensated for their work, and I do support copyright by paying for the books I read. But in a situation like this—where the store is shutting down, and consumer have content they’ve paid for that they risk losing access to—it’s only fair and reasonable to let those consumers do what they must in order to keep their legally purchased books. If you buy a book in paper and then the store shuts down, the book stays readable, doesn’t it? Nobody comes and takes it away. If you want to keep reading it, no one asks you to buy it again from a different store.
I know I’m on high ground—morally, at least—if I unlock my books while I still can, and keep them. But it bothers me that the law would dare to criminalize that behavior. Merge me to the Nook store like the Americans if you want to keep me locked into your management system. But if you can’t or won’t manage my books for me, then for goodness sake give me the right to manage them myself.
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