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How to Deal with the Breakup of Fictionwise and Overdrive


I don’t know if you could tell but I was totally panicked last week when I read about the Fictionwise break up with Overdrive. There are two major fulfillment sources for ebooks other than Fictionwise’s eReader: Overdrive and Lightning Source. These fulfillment companies take the raw text and design of an ebook and convert the text and graphics into an ebook. Overdrive provides fulfillment services for Microsoft, HarperCollins and Random House. It provides ebooks in the following formats: Adobe eBook (PDF and EPUB), Mobipocket (PRC), Microsoft Reader (LIT). Lightning Source provides Penguin and Simon & Schuster ebooks to the public in a variety of formats. Fictionwise owns eReader and fulfills the eReader format for readers.

Fictionwise would take a feed of offerings from Overdrive and provide those books to Fictionwise’s customers. When Overdrive decided to terminate its contract with Fictionwise it meant that any previous purchase of an Overdrive fulfilled book would no longer be available for re-download after January 30, 2009.

This is a big problem for readers. Everytime you buy a new computer, you have to authorize your reading software because of DRM or digital rights management. DRM is a software that publishers think that they should use to prevent piracy. Instead, as you can see by the Fictionwise example, it actually places purchases of readers in jeopardy because once purchased, an ebook with DRM is subject to being lost due to getting new hardware, new reading devices, or even suffering a computer malfunction.

In this case, because each different DRM version of an ebook is considered to be a new copy, Fictionwise had to contact each publisher and essentially ask permission to give a free copy of the book that was being removed from the customers’ bookshelf by Overdrive. Not every publisher has responded to Fictionwise yet but over 80% have agreed to allow Fictionwise to give each customer a replacement in eReader format.

I asked Fictionwise whether Overdrive’s absence would affect the number of new releases available through Fictionwise since in the last two weeks there have been a dearth of HarperCollins, Warner, and other publishers being released. I was told that Fictionwise is addressing its lack of new releases from NY publishers and we should see some immediate changes on Monday and in the forthcoming weeks.

Second, Fictionwise will continue to supply books in Mobi, MS Lit and haven’t been dependent on Overdrive for a while. It will also support Adobe but that is an issue that might take a few weeks to iron out. Fictionwise emphasized to me that it was going to support as many as format as possible.

I think Fictionwise could have done a better job of informing its customers about what was going on by emailing them or putting something on the front page, but it is trying to remedy this situation as best as technology and the law will allow them to do so.

For readers, I recommend taking time out of your day and download your books in your preferred format. Your replacement will be in ereader form and while that is widely read it’s not useable on every device out there. Make frequent backups of your ebooks. While the current federal law prohibits the stripping of DRM even for personal use, it’s the only way you can really ensure that the ebooks you buy are yours forever. Stripping the DRM is something that each reader will have to struggle with on a personal level. If you choose to do so, though, there are tools out there for many formats. More information can be found via googling.

DRM is the bane of the ebook world and it makes me sad to see this happen to Fictionwise, a store I have patronized for the last 4 years almost exclusively. I have to admit, it was a little entertaining to go through my 106 titles affected by the Overdrive/Fictionwise breakup and revisit my purchasing habits. For the record, Madeline Hunter’s ebooks were the first that I had purchased from Fictionwise.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. lilitu93
    Jan 11, 2009 @ 05:25:06

    Only 2 books for me – both Harlequin – and they’ve both been replaced. Since eReader is now my format of choice for DRMed books, it’s actually worked out better for me, even though one of them I’d already stripped the DRM from one of the two already.

    I’d prefer no DRM, and I’m hoping the market will move towards that – music finally has, though it took a while. But if I have to get books with DRM, then at least eReader’s is in the file itself and not dependent on device. As long as you know your card number that you registered it with, it will always work. That involves keeping track of one thing (that you probably know anyway) instead of expecting companies to keep track of your devices.

    I only get Mobipocket now if it’s a freebie, as I have to strip the DRM and maybe convert it to read it, since Amazon hasn’t yet done a Mobi reader for iPhone, and I suspect they aren’t planning, since they think it will raise Kindle sales.

    Personally, I think that’s backwards and a bit shortsighted, since for many people reading on a device they already have is more likely than going out and buying an expensive device just to read books. The reason I took a chance with ebooks was that I discovered there was a free program (eReader) for my Treo 600, and I thought I’d see if I liked reading books on it. I did, and now I’m a convert and an ‘evangelist’ to others about ebooks. I’m sure I’m not the only person out there who’s gone this path to ebooks, and I won’t be the last.

  2. Abi
    Jan 11, 2009 @ 06:59:12

    I do not like DRM and it hardly stops piracy there are always ways around it. I would rather buy books that are DRM free since I get real fed up having to register yet another device with a maximum of 4 at any one time and keeping track of my logins – though I use the same now.

    On the other hand I’d love to replace all my print books on my keeper shelf with ebook versions. But not while they have DRM encryption. Save tons of space though costly I have a lot.

  3. Statch
    Jan 11, 2009 @ 07:19:05

    Great post! I had no idea this was going on, and it’s also a reminder to back up my ebooks. I’d done it before, but it’s been a while and I need to update it.

    I don’t see how ebooks are going to take off in the mass market until they come up with a method for assuring perpetual use of our legally purchased books that doesn’t make criminals of us. On the other hand, a friend just bought a Kindle, and when I raised this issue with him, he said that he doesn’t normally reread books, so it doesn’t bother him.

  4. Call Me An Outlaw
    Jan 11, 2009 @ 10:11:12

    I’ve learned how to reformat my ebooks sans DRM. I’ll be durned if I’ll replace all my collections of fav authors when I finally have some complete collections in ebook.

  5. spyscribbler
    Jan 11, 2009 @ 12:29:18

    That’s possible? Ohmigosh, I’m googling it. I hate DRM. The thing is, if I buy a book, I should be able to “keep” it. If I switch from reading on a Kindle to reading on a Sony, I want to “keep” my books. That’s all I want.

    Just last summer, I bought Eat, Pray, Love in Adobe format, and NO WHERE did it say it was DRM. Now I can’t put it on my Kindle!

    Some sites have it in tiny print in some tiny corner of their websites, and some have no indication whatsoever that the Adobe file is going to be locked. I consider that false advertising. It should be in clear print on each book page. When you select “adobe format” from the list, it should SAY it’s locked.

    If I buy something, I expect it to be mine. I don’t even care if you give me the right to pass the book along. I can deal with that. I just want what I bought to be mine, and to be able to read it on my computer if I want, on my palm if I want, or on my Kindle if I want. Is that too much to ask? I paid for it!

  6. Miki
    Jan 11, 2009 @ 12:31:28

    I looked at ebooks and the various formats for a couple of years before I finally took the plunge and bought my PDA.

    I decided on eReader format (then “Palm Digital Media”) for reasons just like this. I don’t think I’ve had the same computer for more than 3-4 years running. The idea of “activating” or tying my purchases to a piece of hardware was just too likely to lead to heartbreak.

    Plus – for those that require “online activation”, you’ve got to deal with the infringement of your privacy, because that company could theoretically monitor your reading/purchasing habits, even what else is open on your computer! And from a less paranoid point of view, I’m seldom online when I read, so I figured it’d be an annoyance to have to deal with, at the very least.

    I only started buying a few mobipocket books recently, when it was the only format available for books I wanted, when the ability to remove the DRM from it became available. (And what do you know, I’ve managed to control myself and not copy the stripped copies out on some torrent site or usenet board. :eyeroll:)

    I agree that it would have been nice if Fictionwise had been more upfront about it, but you certainly have to admit they’ve been great about seeking ways to replace them. Other sites have not done that.

  7. Miki
    Jan 11, 2009 @ 14:17:57

    By the way, I decided to do a full re-download of all my Fictionwise ebooks – multi-format and encrypted.

    If you use the “bulk download” option, it’ll let you add titles for as long as you like, but what I’m finding so far is, it’ll only download 100 files (plus the CSV and TXT file lists) at a go.

    This is true even if you use “Bulk – Quick Picks” method.

    This may not affect many of your visitors, but for those of us with lots of ebooks, it’s something to make note of.

  8. Linda
    Jan 11, 2009 @ 20:09:47

    How do you rip the DRM off of adobe digital editions? I am not going to share them with anyone, but I would like to be able to read them on my portable device. I can read pdf from a variety of places with an application for Iphone, but I cannot read adobe digital editions. THey show up as blank pages. HELP!!!!!

  9. Jane
    Jan 11, 2009 @ 20:12:57

    @Linda: Can’t be done with Adobe. Sorry.

  10. Dominique
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 07:35:29

    I actually had NO idea this was going on so thank you so much for these posts. We have 450 ebooks that are on Overdrive (and a great relationship) and we’ve been trying to work with fictionwise (to no avail). They don’t return calls or emails. Their contract is a problem. They REQUIRE a 75% discount, which is simply not possible. So we don’t do business with them directly. We work through Overdrive (or worked) because the discount wasn’t possible to work with them directly. And my guess is that other publishers chose the same route. So what happens without Overdrive? And why did that relationship fold? All very interesting. Thank you.

  11. Marcy Arbitman
    Jan 15, 2009 @ 15:14:50

    Please explain what DRM is and how it affects the ebooks that we buy.

  12. TB
    Jan 26, 2009 @ 09:18:46

    Oh well nothing like the last minute. Having only just discovered that 86 books i own are about to vanish, I started downloading 30 minutes ago.

    Of the 54 in Adobe format, about half (OK, I lost count after a dozen) are already broken links with a ‘400 error’ from overdrive. I mean, it’s no one I’m going to want to read again, only Julia Quinn, Lisa Kleypas, Stephanie Laurens etc. (!!!) – i.e. all bigger titles from Harper Collins, Inc./PerfectBound, whom I’m now going to boycott. Ner.

    (sorry for zombie-commenting)

    P.S. DRM: Digital Rights Management.

  13. Jane
    Jan 26, 2009 @ 10:20:52

    @TB You can download many of those books in eReader format but not Adobe anymore.

  14. Unabridged Opinions » Blog Archive » waitin’ for a breakthrough…
    Feb 06, 2009 @ 11:01:32

    […] very, very annoyed if a book I had bought suddenly stopped *working* because of an argument between a publisher and a distributor. Or, simply because my e-reader died for some […]

  15. Doctorteen
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 15:05:56

    nice article !! I will be following this site.

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