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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.

 
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