Fictionwise is Now on Life Support – They’re Pulling the Plug in 3 Weeks’ Time

When Fictionwise launched the year 2000, it was a mad attempt to pioneer in a nascent industry. When it is shut down on 4 December 2012, it will mark the end of an era.

Fictionwise sent out an email today to their publishing partners.  I’ve embedded the email at the end of this post, but the tl;dr version is that the site will cease operations on the first Tuesday in December.

But that’s not all.

Fictionwise is going to shut down all of the sites they own, and that includes ebookwise.com (already defunct), libwise.com (ditto), and most importantly eReader.com is also going to be shut down.

eReader is the last surviving member of the early trinity of ebook formats. Along with Mobipocket and MSReader, it dominated the ebook market up until the launch of the Kindle in 2007, not so much because it was a good format but because it had decent support for a wide variety of PDAs. It was in fact the first ebook format to work on the PalmPilot (aside from text files). That was in 1998, a time when being into ebooks meant you were a hardcore techie.

And when eReader goes kaput it will mark the end of an era. Mobipocket died in 2011, and MSReader died this year. Curiously enough, 2 of these 3 early pioneers ended up getting killed by the bigger, stronger successors which bought and supplanted them. Mobipocket was sold to Amazon in 2005 and smothered 6 years later; eReader passed into the hands of B&N in early 2009, who is killing it this year.

But enough with the melancholy; let’s come back to the present.

The sites are shutting down in 3 weeks, and after that date you will not be able to access any of the ebooks you bought there. Now would be a good time to go download any ebooks you still can.

That won’t be very many titles for me; I bought mainly MSReader ebooks when I could not avoid the DRM, and I bought DRM-free ebooks when I could. And since the MSReader servers were shut down some months back I couldn’t download those ebooks even if I wanted to.

Go download anything you bought at Fictionwise or eReader.com.  Do it now so you can make sure that you can strip the DRM and convert the ebooks to a format which will still be around in January.

Here’s the email:

November 15, 2012

Dear Fictionwise Publisher/Author,

As you may know, Barnes & Noble acquired Fictionwise, Inc. (Fictionwise) on March 3, 2009.  Fictionwise runs several eBook websites, including Fictionwise.com, eReader.com and eBookwise.com. Over the past few years there has been a significant decrease in demand for many of the eBook formats that Fictionwise.com sells. In contrast, the new industry standard eBook format supported by Barnes & Noble–ePub–is growing in popularity.

This letter is to notify you that Fictionwise will wind down its operations on December 4, 2012. The Fictionwise sites (including Fictionwise.com, eReader.com and eBookwise.com) will end sales on December 4, 2012 and U.S. Fictionwise customers will cease to have access to their Fictionwise Bookshelf through the site after December 21, 2012. Customers outside the U.S. will cease to have access to their Fictionwise Bookshelf through the site after January 31, 2013.

Fictionwise customers will be notified of this and U.S. and U.K. customers will be given an opportunity to move their customer accounts, including their eBooks purchased at the Fictionwise websites, to a Barnes & Noble NOOK Library.

Pursuant to section 2 of the agreement between Fictionwise and you, we
hereby provide you with ninety (90) days notice that this agreement will terminate effective February 13th. Your final 4th quarter royalty statement and payment will be mailed February 15th.

If you are not already selling your titles at BN.com and would like to do so, please visit www.pubit.com.

We greatly appreciate your support of Fictionwise over the years. Together, we pioneered eBooks and eReading.

Thank you,
Daniel Jorissen and The Fictionwise Team

13 thoughts on “Fictionwise is Now on Life Support – They’re Pulling the Plug in 3 Weeks’ Time

  1. I’m interested to know why the owners of Fictionwise sold out to B&N in the first place. Was it a B&N takeover, were there financial incentives, or did the big brand eBook sales just drive down their business?

    Chris Meadows talked about the Pendergrasts in a few different TeleRead posts that I have read, and it seems like they were very involved in the eReading community. I think in one post Chris said that they have dropped off the face of the earth and aren’t responding to emails. ‘Daniel Jorissen’ is the only name on the above email.

    I would really like to see a short eBook come out about the origins of digital reading. It would be great to learn about the people and the ideas behind sites like Fictionwise, Blackmask Online, the origins of Project Gutenberg, ect. Unfortunately, the end of that book will be filled with stories of corporate buyouts and scurrilous copyright disputes.

  2. How very sad. They were such pioneers in a time when speaking about reading ebooks on PDAs made you a crazy person in everyone’s eyes.

    I moved from MS Reader and Mobipocket to Kindle pretty quickly after its introduction, so I feel partly responsible for the demise of these early pioneers. Without them, Jeff may have never even thought of ebooks, who knows….

  3. I think B&N wanted the pdb format originally to jump start their Nook sales, and Fictionwise, eReader and the Pendergrasts were the gateway to that. The original Nook reader could read pdb as well as epub, so it encouraged Fictionwise readers to sideload their already purchased ebooks. I know that’s why I purchased the Nook.

    Fictionwise sold DRM epub books for awhile, but eventually were reduced to selling only pdb format (now called eReader format). I can only assume that B&N were responsible for this. They owned Fictionwise, but now Fictionwise DRM books could not be read on the new Nooks. At that point, I figured Fictionwise was doomed. They were still offering the non-DRM formats, but those couldn’t begin to compete with other ebookstores.

    I am very sad at their long demise and closing. In their heyday, they were the store to go to for good deals on ebooks and great variety. I feel like B&N got what they wanted from them and then threw them out.

  4. I don’t know this to be true, it is only my conjecture, but I suspect the real cause of the demise of Fictionwise was the coming of Smashwords. Ficitonwise was, originally, one of the few outlets for DRM-free ebooks and for indie authors. Smashwords changed the game, providing DRM-free ebooks and authors access to the major ebook stores like Sony, Amazon, and B&N. Plus Smashwords basically let anyone publish, which Fictionwise did not. As Smashwords’ popularity grew and as it gave access to the major stores, there no longer was a need for Fictionwise and many people, myself included, who had been buying atr Fictionwise moved to Smashwords and to their device’s bookstore.

    1. I don’t think Smashwords would have been enough to kill Fictionwise.

      At its peak Fictionwise had all the components now found in the major ebookstores: a self-pub program, a proprietary device and format, broad selection of titles, etc. What they lacked was the muscle to make anything of it – not in a post Kindle world.

      And so B&N bought Fictionwise and used them for parts, experience, and inspiration. That’s exactly what happened to Mobipocket.

      1. Fictionwise, along with Mobipocket and most of the remaining ebook-only retailers are a product of the hobbyist/enthusiast era of ebooks, much as Byte and PC Computing and Creative Computing were a product of hobbyist era of PCs. You can easily name a similar handful of first-gen players for almost any other commercial venture (cars, aviation, TV….) that helped establish a market, even an industry but found themselves marginalized and eventually superceded once the market evolved and drew in mainstream consumers.
        Fictionwise’s calling card was its willingness to support any format it could find commercial ebooks in. At a time that offering commercial ebooks at all was an achievement unto itself they earned a lot of good will and a nice customer base…among early adopters.
        eBooks have long ceased to be the province of hobbyists and early adopters and in several parts of the world has expanded into a mainsteam, high volume business.
        Times change, businesses change…
        Nothing is sacred, nothing is forever…
        Not even Twinkies. :D

  5. If I’m remembering correctly, Fictionwise was not open to self-published authors unless they had published at least 25 books. At least that’s what I discovered when I self-published in 2008. If they had been more like Smashwords, ie open to everybody, that might have made a difference.

  6. So sad. Can’t say that I didn’t see it coming. Thanks Nate for your article. I never thought of myself as a hard core techie before. I guess I am. I bought my first dedicated reader in 1999. I had to really save for that. Nice to see the progress that this technology has made.

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