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Another ebook casualty?

November 24, 2011

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Caveat lector. Good advice for any reader, but particularly when it comes to the fragile world of ebooks. Since publishers sign deals with certain distributors, but not others, one runs the risk of losing the ability to read legally purchased ebooks if a platform goes away or one buys a new device. Sure, ebook warriors would tell me just to reformat the books using some spiffy converter, which may well be possible in most instances, but, really, is that any kind of viable business model? I want to read, not manage my books.

The latest entry in the list of casualties of the ebook struggles may well be the once popular Stanza reader. Stanza was the anti-Amazon when it came out in 2008. Wired Magazine even named it one of the “10 Most Awesome iPhone Apps” for 2008.

Fast forward three years, and one wonders how such a successful app could fail to thrive. A recent code update for iOS 5 broke the app for iOS 4 users (it won’t even load for many), and the days pass without sign of any movement from Lexcycle, the firm behind the app. Their Website shows no updates since 2009, and the Twitter account (@stanza_reader) hasn’t been used since 2010. So much for graceful deprecation.

Unlike some of the reviewers now flaming Stanza for this failure, I’m not particularly upset. It was free, after all, and I was using it to read public domain works, so had no financial investment at stake. I did have something of a readerly investment at stake, however. I had become attuned to how the app worked (brilliant, to be honest), and had a number of books in progress when it borked out a couple of weeks ago. Nothing to get huffy about, but it is curious to see such a hot app dissolve into nothingness. Surely there had to be a way to build a sustainable business model here.

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7 Comments
  1. mia.mass@gmail.com permalink
    November 24, 2011 20:07

    Stanza was purchased by Amazon a few years ago.

  2. November 25, 2011 10:48

    Why, yes, they were, in April 2009 it appears. Thanks for mentioning this.

    What’s interesting is that the development continued post-purchase. What’s even more interesting is that Amazon would let a platform it acquired simply fade and die without managing a more elegant transition to another platform, such as their own Kindle app. Stanza has millions of users, so no benefit accrues to Amazon if they are unhappy with Stanza.

  3. Ursula Helmkamp permalink
    November 30, 2011 11:14

    Thank you for your post! I had already wondered what had gone wrong with Stanza, but I didn’t find anything on their forum, so I had simply assumed that I had somehow botched the upgrade. Now that you reported on it, I took a second look at the support forum and discovered that it had moved (it is monitored, but not actively administered by Stanza).

    There is already a looong thread about workarounds (reinstalling an earlier version): http://getsatisfaction.com/stanza/topics/latest_update_3_2_crashes_the_app_immediately

    Seeing that Amazon has bought Lexcycle, however, and that they’re letting Stanza go the way of the dodo, I’ll look out for an alternative independent reading app… Suggestions anyone?

    • November 30, 2011 21:59

      You’re welcome, and thanks for the comment. I use a variety of other readers, none of which I would deem independent (e.g.- Kindle, Kobo, etc.). On Twitter, a friend suggested Bluefire Reader. Haven’t tried it yet, but plan to check it out.

  4. Ursula Helmkamp permalink
    November 30, 2011 11:21

    Another quick thought: Many libraries branch out into information literacy skills training which goes beyond the obvious, traditional topics. If we teach and promote free software (e-book reading software, reference management or what-have-you), we need to remind our patrons that they should have an exit strategy up their sleeve just in case the service is discontinued (or becomes a paid service).

    • November 30, 2011 22:01

      Agreed. Something I’ve often said in many contexts in libraries is that we need to teach concepts, not tools. There are very few things one can do with computers where there is truly only one way to do it. Reading ebooks is certainly not one of those instances. Flexibility on the part of users will spare a lot of pointless teeth gnashing!

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