Over 28.7 Billion Served: Take Out Fiction!
Written: Sep 1, 2002 (Updated Sep 2, 2002)
Fictionwise.com is perhaps the greatest e-book distributor on the internet. Their holdings are robust (they currently offer 5616 Titles, 359 of them Award-Winning Works, by 3030 "brand name" authors) and they are updated each and every week. They offer new books that are on the shelves at Barnes and Noble side-by-side with classic short stories by authors you should have read long ago. You can get e-books in any format choose, from Adobe .pdf to Palm Doc. This is no fly-by-night small press business venture pitching wannabe writers who can't get published in other venues -- this is the way ebooks are supposed to be sold. I consider this site one of the best e-commerce sites of all time, right up there with such models as amazon.com, netflix.com, and epinions.com. Their 54143 members to date can't be wrong!
What makes Fictionwise great?
Aside from its remarkably smart e-commerce set-up, the thing that makes fictionwise work is its strong focus on popular genre fiction. The site leans heavily toward science fiction, fantasy, and horror fans, regularly featuring new titles by many authors in those "speculative" genres each week. They pitch classic craftsmen in the field -- like Isaac Asimov or Phillip Dick or Harlan Ellison -- side by side with relatively new up-and-comers, like Ted Chiang or Amy Sterling Casil. Many are also recognizable award-winners in the genre, and the site regularly promotes sci-fi and fantasy by offering FREE copies of Nebula and Hugo Award nominees when those stories are in the running for the award (one of the many wonderful things about Fictionwise is its distribution of freebies...which I'll get to in a moment). Overall, the strong support of the sf/f/h genres really grooms its primary audience and keeps their members happy. But despite it's sci-fi leanings, there are other genres served well by the site: mystery/crime, romance, childrens, historical, humor, and even non-fiction (non-fictionwise? yes!).
A Genre Fiction Lover's Dream
I'm a big horror fan and though I thought Fictionwise's proclivity for sci-fi would disappoint me, the site went beyond my expectiations. Let's look at how it does so. Today on the site, they're offering a 15% bonus on two very creepy short stories by Bram Stoker Award winning author, Michael Arnzen, a 30% discount on credit card purchases of three Stephen King novels, and another 15% off a dark fantasy tale by David Langford called "Jack the Clipper" (which is about a toenail...it sounds hilarious). There are also suspense novels like the recently published NEON BLUE and a humorous short story collection by Eppie Award winner Jeff Strand called GRAVEROBBER WANTED (NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY). Quite enough horror to keep me happy -- and in some cases laughing -- for more than a week. It introduces me to new authors. And it comes in at a huge savings I wouldn't find elsewhere.
A Short Story Feast
One of the things that fictionwise does right is reprint short fiction cheaply. You might be saying to yourself, "Reprints? I don't want those -- I want originals!" But the fact is, you can't own everything in print...and who would want to? Fictionwise lets you make YOUR OWN anthologies of reputable editor-tested work. It's not just a novel merchandising warehouse -- it's also a catalogue of short fiction that has been published in popular magazines and anthologies and work that is now available to you in "individually wrapped" packages. I can get stories from big magazines like FANTASY & SF or excerpt the 'good stuff' from collections I wasn't tempted enough to buy en masse. I have easy access to hidden treasures of the past that I would have difficulty finding in a library, let alone a bookstore, too. Everytime I download e-books, it's like making my own "mixed tape" of fiction. And they're all VERY cheap. I can download many short stories for less than fifty cents! That's cheaper than a chocolate bar. And though e-books are made of ether, they're probably longer lasting than chocolate, too.
Low prices and special offers are what keep me returning to Fictionwise.com every week. That's right. Weekly. Each week, the site releases a bevvy of new titles (usually no less than twenty-five) that are discounted at 15% if you buy them before the next batch is released. That discount is a big incentive to return to the site. And if you sneak in early, right after they release them, you can also get a "rapid rebate" for ordering titles in their first hours of release! There are plenty of other incentives for shopping the site -- from the "Buywise Club" discounts (sort of like frequent flyer miles -- you pay about $30 and get discounts on everything you buy for a year) to the "Big Bargain" specials (currently 55 sale and rebate titles are available!) to exclusive "Buy One/Get One Free" novel offers (typically of series fiction...which they have lots of!). In May of 2002, they even offered free copies of the SPIDERMAN and STAR WARS novelizations in a fun "Battle of the Ebooks" competition!
E-books ARE for Everyone
Of course, you have to like e-books to begin with. But did you know you don't necessarily need an e-book reader, like the Rocket Bookman? Fictionwise offers up MANY different formats to accomodate you. There are the popular Adobe .pdf formats, the typical Palm DOC format for Palm Pilots and Handspring Visors, as well as iSilo format and Mobipocket secure formats for any PDAs. You can also use a Franklin eBookman or the Rocket Ebook with Fictionwise titles and they even specially format fiction for the Korean Hiebook. Secure formats include Secure Mobipocket, Secure Microsoft Reader, and Secure Palm Reader. Just about any e-book format you can think of is covered, so you can read these on your computer screen, handheld PDA, or dedicated device...and probably any device they invent in the future.
You'll never lose your work. When you buy an e-book from fictionwise, you're taken to an electronic "bookshelf" which immediately carries your book and holds your purchases in perpetuity for life. You can download your e-book titles to your computer disk or e-book device as often and in as many formats as you like, whenever you like. You're asked not to print them and I think they try to prevent it. But otherwise, they're yours, whenever and wherever you like (and that's the great thing about e-books: you could carry a backpack's worth in your back pocket!)
Rate 'em and Weep
The site asks you to "rate" the books and stories you read on a scale of one to four. This not only has the benefit of letting others know how good the e-books are (or aren't) but also can generate custom discounts for you...the more you rank what you read, the more rebate offers they send you for others! And they custom pick titles that match what you like to read, based on your feedback (using cookies, probably, but it's not as obtrusive or invasive as amazon.com is with your privacy).
Reading is Beneficial
There are many other benefits to selecting Fictionwise.com as your e-book retailer of choice. They've got a GREAT affiliate program that can generate some fast income for you if you've got a website. They offer 30% royalties to the authors they publish. And they seem receptive to their members, through newsletters, newsgroups, reviews, and other interactive elements. All said, it's a fantastic place to browse around.
There are a few drawbacks to Fictionwise. For one thing, the choice of original titles is limited -- they have more reprints than brand new works (but this is common, because publishing sells from hardcovers down to paperbacks down to e-books). Some of the work at fictionwise is stale because of this -- if you're an avid fan, you may have already read, say, Neil Gaiman's AMERICAN GODS before the e-book version comes out a year later. So this site compliments your other book reading habits...it doesn't take them over. (But it does make your PDA all the more useful!).
I should mention here that Fictionwise has also begun publishing all-original anthologies -- collections of stories written exclusively for the site -- like the recently released (and fantastic) SWITCH.BLADE anthology, edited by Amy Sterling Casil and featuring such great writers as Michael Arnzen, Alan Rogers, Vera Nazarian, Lisa Silverthorne, Tobias Buckell, and James Van Pelt.
Another minor drawback to the site is that you absolutely must use a credit card for purchases. You can't use Paypal, unfortunately. And if you're a kid, without a credit card, how are you going to download all their chilren and young adult titles unless your parents buy them for you? There are also small issues with the various formats that Fictionwise offers...the "secure" editions they sometimes offer can be a problem because they're often more expensive and often more difficult to open unless you install boggy software onto your handheld computer. Not a lot of fun there. But their "multiformat" ebooks are all worthy enough for your membership.
Bottom Line: Quality AND Quantity
Fictionwise only distributes work by famous writers who have at least ten credentials to their name. There are LOTS of award-winners here and author names you'll recognize. You won't be disappointed here. Compared to other sites, Fictionwise.com rules! And if the temptation to download all the FREEBIES they offer isn't incentive enough, I don't know what is.
I highly recommend you check it out. If you still aren't sure, read Quasar's review on epinions.com and check out the great articles they link to on their own news site at http://www.fictionwise.com/news.htm.
A running tally on the top of their website's front page proudly announces that Fictionwise has over 28.7 billion words served and is still going strong. But this is no hamburger joint, pumping out the McLit. This is quality brain food. Thanks, Fictionwise, for making me wiser!
-- un, 09/02