e-Books and Fictionwise

August 13th, 2004 Comments Off on e-Books and Fictionwise

Books in Brazil are expensive. There are many reasons for that, including social and economic ones, and I could talk for hours about them. But that’s not the point of this post. It’s enough to know that our book market is very elitist — after all, only people with enough resources can consume books regularly.

A side effect of that elitism is that some genres are virtually ignored by the book industry here. Science fiction and fantasy are the most perennial examples in the circles that discuss this kind of thing. As SF&F are the markets in which I’m most interested, I’m often disheartened by the lack of good books to read. Except for the current US best-sellers, few books get translated. Neuromancer, for example, only hit the shelves here in late 2003, nearly twenty years after its publication date — and that only because the Matrix trilogy created enough interest in the topic.

Since there’s virtually no SF&F market, the solution is to import books, an even more expensive process (and slow as well) that depends on an ever-changing dollar/real exchange ratio — which, by the way, only goes up. And most of the times, shipping is so expensive that you end up importing a book for three or four times the price of an equivalent hardcover edition here.

Given all those facts, I’ve been interested in e-books since I first read about them. Mainly because I like their portability, but also because of the price factor. As there’s no shipping involved other than a download, they bridge part of the price gap. When I bought a Palm, a few months ago, the first think I did was to test the book reading programs available for the platform. As I soon found, they’re still far from providing a really good reading experience, but they are good enough to be used.

Anyway, this whole explanation was just to recommend Fictionwise. Fictionwise is by far the best e-book seller in the market. Not only they have the biggest offering in the market, but they also have the best prices — and weekly site-wide and individual promotions to boot. Most e-books are in a price range equivalent or inferior to their paperback counterparts, and e-books above that price range are usually from publishing houses that seem to think that e-books must cost the same as paper books.

One of the most interesting things about Fictionwise is that they are committed to non-DRM books. A lot of their offering is available in multiple formats without any DRM whatsoever. Granted, most of the best books are in the so-called secure formats, but that’s a bit inevitable in the e-book market today.

The site has a lot of interesting features, one of the best being the Micropay accounts. Since Fictionwise sells many books below the five-dollar price range, and credit card payments that low incur in added processing fees, Fictionwise created special account you can “deposit” money using a credit card in five-dollar increments, and later use at will to buy e-books without incurring in any fees. That’s specially interesting for short-stories, most of which cost less than one dollar.

They also have excellent support, and are committed to their users — for example, when one of their DRM service provider changed it DRM scheme and left users to sort the mess by themselves, Fictionwise archived the affected e-books their customers had bought and will continue to do so, allowing users to download them at will, instead of forcing them to download once and risk losing them eventually. Of course, I’d rather have the e-books released without any DRM, but that’s not Fictionwise call.

Unlike many other companies, Fictionwise newsletters are good as well. They’re customized for each customer, based on his or her buying history, and often feature special discounts for e-books they think that user will like. As the user rates the e-books he or she has bought, the accuracy of the newsletters goes up.

So Fictionwise is a good place to buy e-books. For me, it has the added appeal of allowing me to buy books I would not otherwise find here in Brazil unless I imported them — and at a much better price as well. All in all, I recommend them to anyone interested in buying e-books.

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