Mobipocket, a French company that was once at the absolute forefront of EBooks and their distribution, can provide an interesting example for the life cycle of a company that depends on having a web presence. I'm not going to go into the history of the site in this post, I'm going to talk a little about my experience with it. If you want to see an accurate history of Mobipocket, the Wikipedia page is a great resource.
While the First Light Chronicles (now collected in Spinward Fringe Broadcast 0: Origins), first appeared on Lulu.com, it didn't actually get picked up by a significant number of readers until it was posted on Mobipocket.
Pictured above: a sloppy screenshot of the first time one of my books hit #1 on Mobipocket.
Within a few months it actually rose to number one in the Science Fiction category. During those early days, I was on stress leave from my job at a call centre that provided customer support for a New York cable company. Thanks to that rise in placement and earnings, I didn't have to return to that particularly hellish cubicle.
The Spinward Fringe novels occupied the top 10 site wide regularly over the following two years, and never left the top ten science fiction spots. Until Amazon began distributing my books, Mobipocket was my primary source of income. Smashwords became the replacement for Mobipocket when the Kindle started out doing the Mobipocket mobile app, and I needed a new distributor.
My long stunt on Mobipocket wasn't all happy times, however. On several occasions their servers went down, and they removed my books from the Science Fiction category entirely so big publishers could get into the top 10. Readers complained every time, and every time they claimed it was a system error. Regardless of those bumps in the road, I'm glad they were there, and grateful for the platform they provided.
During Mobipocket's most successful period, they distributed to over thirty different small and large EBook retailers, and was in use by all the major publishers. Little did I know that Amazon purchased Mobipocket in 2005, long before I came along.
They used the software Mobipocket designed for PC, Mac OS and other devices as the foundation for their Kindle app, and adopted the EBook format as their own. Since 2010 Amazon has been phasing out Mobipocket, stopping new publishers (indie and large alike), from joining and directing focus to the Kindle.
Independent publishers weren't stranded, however. Migration to the Kindle Direct Platform went fairly smoothly in most cases, and that further bolstered EBook sales on Kindle, not that they needed the help. Sadly, most readers were stuck with a sizeable number of books that were purchased through Mobipocket. These files were heavily DRM'ed (copy protected), and would only work on a Mobipocket app / compatible device.
My story with Mobipocket was clearly ending by the end of 2010, and I couldn't help but be a little sad about that, considering there were a couple thousand readers with my books stuck on a mobipocket device, and Mobipocket was a fantastic platform for over two years. A couple months ago the majority of titles were removed from Mobipocket, with the exception of a few public domain titles.
Amazon seems to have finished phasing out my old stomping ground, but I can't blame them. That's what they do when they need new technology and another company of an affordable size has it. They absorb the company and the technology to improve their customers' experiences while offering new products.
Seeing it shut down is sad, but in the end I'm glad I was brought along for this phase of technological progress. I just hope that Amazon found a way to migrate their Mobipocket customers' libraries to Kindle...
[Farewell Mobipocket, and thanks for all the support!]