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Well, it’s been fun, but I’ve just made my last post to TeleRead as a regular contributor. Starting tomorrow, I’m moving to The Digital Reader, to write for my friend Nate Hoffelder.

It’s important to note that there are no hard feelings between me and NAPCO or new editor-in-chief Dan Eldridge, who I’m confident will do a great job keeping TeleRead true to the vision of founder David Rothman. I just don’t have the time to write as much as I used to anymore. Still, you may see the occasional bit of content from me pop up here from time to time, and I’ll certainly be reading and commenting to the site just like the rest of you.

Retrospective

What a long, strange trip it’s been.

I made my first post to TeleRead just twenty days short of six years ago. (I looked back at some of the predictions I made there in 2010.) Including that post and this one, I’ve blogged some 3,151 posts to TeleRead over the course of those six years. That may include a few posts that have simply mentioned me, not been by me, since I’m going by the number of posts containing the tag “Chris Meadows”. Still, not a bad record all in all.

When I started writing here, e-books were still the cottage industry they’d been for the previous eight years or so. The biggest names in e-book selling were Fictionwise, eReader (which was owned by Fictionwise), and MobiPocket. (Not counting Baen, of course, who only sold its own books.) Fictionwise’s Pendergrasts were actually still reading and posting here! Also, Jon Noring and Robert Nagle were still frequent contributors to the site as well.

One big event in e-book news at the time was Condé Nast’s takedown of pulp public-domain site Blackmask.com for getting a little too big for its britches and trying to get away with posting a bunch of Shadow and Doc Savage e-books without permission. (Who even thinks about that now?)

A few companies, most notably Sony, were putting out e-ink readers, but nobody was really buying them. Palm was entering the last few years of its relevance, and the iPhone and iPod Touch were just coming on the horizon as Palm’s great successor for pocket e-reading. We were still a few months away from the Kindle coming on the scene and changing everything.

Over the last six years, the e-book marketplace has changed with a rapidity that has stunned most onlookers (and pretty much pole-axed the traditional publishers). Amazon launched its Kindle, blindsiding the publishers with its practice of deep discounting e-books (which subsequently led to the whole agency pricing mess, which led to the DoJ lawsuit and settlement we have today). Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and later Apple’s iPad followed suit, as well as a host of others who have since largely retreated into irrelevance. (Anyone else remember Astak? Pocketbook? Later, of course, we had other meltdowns like Plastic Logic and the Crunchpad.)

When I first started writing for TeleRead, anyone in the world could buy any e-book they wanted from any of the e-book stores that were in operation at the time, and had been able to do for years. That changed in 2009 as publishers forced them to impose the geographic restrictions that they should, theoretically, have been honoring all along. Funny how it took the publishers ten years to notice that was going on, isn’t it?

And also, e-book piracy went from background noise to a major cause for alarm, at least among most major publishers. (See my first post and look back, above.) Yet now we’ve finally reached the point where at least a few publishers are starting to tread in the footsteps of Apple and Amazon and get rid of their DRM.

Amazon had already gobbled up MobiPocket before I got here, and then refused to release the iOS reader app that MobiPocket had been working on. Indeed, to this day nobody who ever bought any DRM-locked non-Amazon Mobi e-books can read them on an iOS device without cracking the DRM, teaching a valuable lesson in how quickly what is assumed to be the “dominant” format can vanish into irrelevance. Better back up those Kindle e-books, folks! You just never know. Likewise, Barnes & Noble bought Fictionwise, and the Pendergrasts were never heard from again. The Mobipocket store was closed down. eReader and Fictionwise retreated into irrelevance as well, as they were no longer able to match Amazon’s deep discounting, or do significant development on their own e-reader clients.

And two behemoths began to allow user contributions: Apple opened up its iOS platform to third party developers, and Amazon kicked off its self-publishing program. Both walled gardens in their own way, but both wildly successful, possibly beyond the imagination of anyone who was watching at the time. (Well, almost anyone.)

In short, if you brought someone from back then forward to the here and now, he’d think he was living in science fiction. E-book sales so prevalent they actually threatened the future of traditional publishers, to the point where the publishers (allegedly) had to foment an illegal conspiracy in order to stay alive? Self-publishing good for more than just vanity? Dozens of articles on why e-books are lousy and/or awesome appearing in all the major papers? Major publishers dropping DRM from all their e-books? How could we have dreamed such things were even possible?

(And how could I have predicted that even my Dad would want to try e-reading, and then find out that he enjoyed it?)

I was going to close by mentioning some of my favorite posts I made here, but I’ve already linked to some of them and this farewell is too long and self-indulgent as it is, so I’ll just mention the one set that is especially dearest to my heart: my “Paleo E-Books” series, in which I looked back at some early online interactive fiction projects.

Through these projects, many college students learned that reading and writing from a green or amber CRT screen could be fun and enjoyable years before anyone could do it on anything smaller. I think this is one of my favorite series, because these fiction projects were an important part of introducing creativity to the Internet, and a whole generation of college students to the fun of writing, cooperating with other people, and, oh yes, reading electronic fiction. And yet, most of them have been completely forgotten in our web-based world, and I think that’s a pity. They’re an important part of the history of online culture—and of e-books.

Farewell

Anyway, I’ve taken up enough of your time (just about six years of it, I think!) and I’m looking forward to starting on the new site tomorrow. My best wishes to former editor-in-chief Paul Biba and his motorcycle, and to incoming editor-in-chief Dan Eldridge and the rest of the site. I’ll still be with you in spirit and in comments.

I look forward to seeing what the next six years holds for e-books. Let’s all discover it together.

 
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