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TeleRead Senior Writer Chris Meadows steps down

Posted By Chris Meadows On July 31, 2012 @ 9:07 pm In Chris Meadows,ebook,ereaders,TeleRead,writing | 9 Comments

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 [1], 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 [2], 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 [3] just twenty days short of six years ago. (I looked back at some of the predictions I made there [4] 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 [5] 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 [6]? Pocketbook [7]? Later, of course, we had other meltdowns like Plastic Logic [8] and the Crunchpad [9].)

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 [10] as publishers forced them to impose the geographic restrictions [11] 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 [12]. 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 [13]. Better back up those Kindle e-books, folks! You just never know. Likewise, Barnes & Noble bought Fictionwise [14], and the Pendergrasts were never heard from again [15]. 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. [16])

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 [17], and then find out that he enjoyed it [18]?)

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” [19] 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 [20] 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.


9 Comments (Open | Close)

9 Comments To "TeleRead Senior Writer Chris Meadows steps down"

#1 Comment By Dan Eldridge On July 31, 2012 @ 9:24 pm

What a fantastic, beautifully-written and truly genuine farewell post, Chris! In fact, not only is this letter a near-perfect example of how to resign from a job with grace–it’s also a valuable history lesson for those of us who weren’t following the e-book scene during its salad days, as you were. This is definitely a post I’ll be hanging onto.

And of course, I wish you the very best of luck, and much happiness, at TDR. It’s a fantastic site, and now I’ve got one more excuse to follow it daily!

Very kind regards,

Dan Eldridge
TeleRead.com

#2 Comment By David H. Rothman On August 1, 2012 @ 12:50 am

My best wishes to you in your new incarnation, Chris. Stay in touch.

Like Dan, I love your mini-history. Nate’s blog is first-rate, and with your prose and insights, it’ll be even better. Meanwhile those several thousand TeleRead posts of yours will remain online for e-book fans and technical historians to discover, admire, and enjoy.

Yes, how far we’ve come since the days of e-books on blurry PDA screens, and worse! The glory of technology is that, however problematic are the doings of humans, it keeps getting better; and I hope that Dan himself will be at TeleRead for a long time to chronicle the wonders ahead. As people can see from the comments section, he and I
and others like Joanna C. are mulling over ways to reinvent the site rather than simply let it serve as a digital museum. The more suggestions we get from savvy TeleRead community members like Joanna, the better!

Any site covering technology needs to be forward-looking rather than dwell excessively on the past. But I can’t resist a few brags about yore. TeleRead was pushing in the 1990s for a massive national digital library system at a time when some experts wondered if search technology would allow this. This was years before Google’s proposed private version and the Digital Public Library of America project at Harvard. We were hardly the first to advocate a national digital library system. But our twist was the idea of combining the virtual library with the systematic popularization of color tablets with detachable keyboards, and we were also advocating other wrinkles such as tight integration of the technology with local schools and libraries.

For those who don’t know, TeleRead likewise was the leading champion of OpenReader, which in turn jogged the International Digital Publishing Forum into creating the ePub standard now used by giants like Apple, Sony, and B&N. Thank you, Jon Noring, for founding the OpenReader Consortium and writing about it in TeleRead when many prominent people in e-bookdom ridiculed the idea of nonproprietary standards. In an e-book context, I invented the phrase “Tower of eBabel,” and Jon and I tried our hardest to raze the Tower (like Chris, I continue to root for the death of DRM—a related evil—in e-bookstores).

As far as I know, TeleRead is the Internet’s oldest site devoted to general news and views on e-books. It isn’t as ancient as my car, a white 1988 Honda Civic with a sometimes-moody air-conditioning system. But who cares? I’d rather be sentimental about the gifted and hardworking people behind the site, over all these years, than about inevitably obsolete machines. You’d fit the former category, Chris. Good luck!

Cheers,
David

#3 Comment By Joanna On August 1, 2012 @ 7:33 am

Best of luck to you, Chris! I have bookmarked your new site and hope to see you here in the comments!

#4 Comment By fbr On August 1, 2012 @ 8:09 am

Well I’m going to miss you …wait a minute, no I’m not. I read the Digital Reader everyday along with Teleread ..I’ll just read you over there.

#5 Comment By Fr. Ignatius On August 1, 2012 @ 9:28 am

Wow, two writer leaving in successive days. Ouch. I hope that Teleread will survive this. No offense to NAPCO, but this is a blow.

I have really enjoyed this website because of the updates that were always arriving, mostly by Chris Meadows. I sure hope that this site is able to keep up the volume and the quality that we have experienced in the past.

My best to Paul and Chris. Good strength in your future endeavors. Wish you didn’t have to leave, but it has been great while it lasted.

Good strength to Dan Eldridge and whoever he brings on to fill the shoes that have been left vacant.

#6 Comment By Fr. Ignatius On August 2, 2012 @ 11:43 am

I have been trying to comment, but for the past two days…nothing has been posted. Why?

#7 Comment By Fr. Ignatius On August 2, 2012 @ 11:45 am

Okay, let me try this…again.

Well this is a real blow for Teleread. I have been reading this site for a few years and have always been amazed out how much output could be done by one person. Chris Meadows has been the backbone of this site. We are definitely going to miss his constant input. I have already bookmarked your new residence on the web, and look forward to reading your posts there.

I hope that there hasn’t been any nefarious reasons for the two main contributors of this site leaving in consecutive days. It does looks suspicious.

I hope that Dan Eldridge and whoever he acquires can keep the standards high and the posts interesting (and often). Good strength in this endeavor. You definitely have BIG SHOES to fill.

The best also to Paul Bilba. We are going to miss both of you, greatly.

#8 Comment By Clytie Siddall On August 4, 2012 @ 2:16 am

Chris, thanks for your years of dedication to the ereading community. I’ve always enjoyed your articles, and, as an early ebook adopter, appreciate your journey through ebook-tech evolution. :)

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Article printed from TeleRead: News and views on e-books, libraries, publishing and related topics: http://www.teleread.com

URL to article: http://www.teleread.com/ebooks/teleread-senior-writer-chris-meadows-steps-down/

URLs in this post:

[1] The Digital Reader: http://the-digital-reader.com

[2] new editor-in-chief Dan Eldridge: http://www.teleread.com/site-update/meet-telereads-new-editor-in-chief/

[3] my first post to TeleRead: http://www.teleread.com/copy-right/e-books-the-peer-to-peer-dichotomy/

[4] looked back at some of the predictions I made there: http://www.teleread.com/drm/looking-back-at-a-look-ahead-my-e-book-piracy-prognostications-from-2006/

[5] Condé Nast’s takedown of pulp public-domain site Blackmask.com: http://www.teleread.com/copy-right/conde-nast-lawyer-calls-blackmask-publisher-a-rogue/

[6] Astak: http://www.teleread.com/category/chris-meadows/review-astak-5-pocket-pro-ez-reader/

[7] Pocketbook: http://www.teleread.com/ebooks/pocketbook-302-review-preconceptions/

[8] Plastic Logic: http://www.teleread.com/chris-meadows/plastic-logic-closes-us-office-exits-e-reader-business-to-make-displays-for-others/

[9] Crunchpad: http://www.teleread.com/tag/fusion-garage/

[10] That changed in 2009: http://www.teleread.com/paul-biba/ereader-enforcing-geographical-restrictions/

[11] publishers forced them to impose the geographic restrictions: http://www.teleread.com/ebooks/fictionwise-forced-to-impose-geo-restrictions-on-already-bought-book-lit-agents-unwittingly-promoting-piracy/

[12] refused to release the iOS reader app that MobiPocket had been working on: http://www.teleread.com/drm/drmd-mobipocket-is-the-e-text-on-the-wall/

[13] vanish into irrelevance: http://www.teleread.com/paul-biba/are-we-witnessing-the-slow-agonizing-death-of-mobipocket/

[14] Barnes & Noble bought Fictionwise: http://www.teleread.com/ebooks/fictionwise-acquired-by-barnes-noble/

[15] the Pendergrasts were never heard from again: http://www.teleread.com/chris-meadows/are-fictionwise-and-ereader-on-the-way-out/

[16] Well, almost anyone.: http://www.teleread.com/ebooks/e-book-why-the-kindle-will-fail-is-free-to-prime-subscribers-but-not-actually-ironic/

[17] even my Dad would want to try e-reading: http://www.teleread.com/chris-meadows/my-dad-wants-a-kobo/

[18] find out that he enjoyed it: http://www.teleread.com/ebooks/i-love-my-kobo-by-mark-meadows/

[19] “Paleo E-Books”: http://www.teleread.com/category/paleo-e-books/

[20] former editor-in-chief Paul Biba: http://www.teleread.com/paul-biba/editor-in-chief-paul-biba-resigns-from-teleread/

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