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"Kindle Killer" Might be Hyperbole, but a Lot to Like About Shortcovers

The email invitation I received to check out shortcovers — a new hybrid Web/mobile reading site from Canada’s Indigo Books & Music — touted it as a “Kindle Killer.” While there’s a lot to like about shortcovers, there’s some shortcomings to that moniker. First, it’s not a device, it’s a Web site with a companion iPhone app (presumably wending its way through Apple’s approval queue) and eventually other mobile apps as well. Second, while I was very impressed with their execution, I didn’t see much that Amazon couldn’t match with a similar mobile App.

That said, I really liked what I saw of shortcovers (though to be fair, it’s hard to truly judge something you’ve seen only via Webex — my comments are based on a brief demo, and apply primarily to books). In particular:

  • iTunes-style previews and a la carte purchasing. Buying single chapters won’t make much sense for some kinds of content, but we know from experience at Safari that a lot of readers like that kind of chunking.
  • Online/offline options. Adding “buy the print version” to the iPhone equation might be shortcovers’ biggest contribution to the mobile reading market. Sure you can buy books from Amazon’s iPhone app, but you can’t also buy/read an electronic version at the same time. A lot of our ebooks are sold bundled with the print version, and it’s a great option to offer customers. (Print orders are fulfilled by Indigo in Canada, and by an as-yet-unnamed partner in the U.S.)
  • Cloud-style syncing. Buy from your phone, and the book appears in your online “Library” accessible from a browser. Offline downloads won’t be available initially, though apparently are on the way.
  • Recommendation and annotation. This was key to Amazon’s rise to dominance in online book retailing — its database of reviews and recommendations, a system that got smarter the more people used it.
  • Support for the EPUB standard, and the option for publishers to make their content available without DRM. As long as there’s a choice, the market should take care of the rest.

Overall, shortcovers probably isn’t the revolution they’re implying, but it is a big next step for mobile reading and ecommerce.

For additional viewpoints, The Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg recently reviewed shortcovers, and Chris Meadows on TeleRead has this counterpoint.

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Comments: 7

  1. Hi Andrew — when you say there is ePub support does that mean publishers can send Indigo ePub files so they can assimilate them into their system or does that mean customers can download ePub files and read them offline? Curious if you can clarify what you meant — best regards.

  2. My impression was that initially there would not be offline downloads, but longer term that would be an option; at that point, assuming the publisher did not want DRM, the customer would be getting EPUB. Again, I only saw a WebEx, so can’t really speak with much authority on that kind of detail. (They do have a questions link on their homepage.)

  3. Andrew – from your description it sounds like these books are delivered as web content to a browser embedded in the app. If that’s the case, did you have a chance to see the app in action, and could you tell what the reading experience was like?

  4. I’d like to clarify some of these questions on behalf of Shortcovers:

    Shortcovers is currently accepting ePub from publishers and it is their preferred format. At launch, they won’t be offering downloads of content but that is definitely on their road map.

    Re: DRM/non-DRM, Shortcovers wants to provide a great experience on web and mobile. They have DRM for mobile and have decided to also put it into a plug-in for the web experience for content that requires DRM. It should be seamless to the end user and prevent cut/copy/print/paste, and it will use the same DRM technologies as their mobile client.

    Regarding iPhone: Shortcovers has a full iPhone application currently awaiting approval from Apple. Shortcovers is offering more than a web experience, where consumers can take their favorite content on the go–it’s all about finding your next great read.

    Shortcovers will officially launch in early February but feel free to go to http://www.shortcovers.com now, to sign up for a launch alert.

  5. who would want to “kill the kindle”? :+)

    oh, right, publishers who want to resist the
    pressure that bezos-the-bookseller will be
    putting on them to lower e-book prices…

    (newsflash: jeff is _not_ gonna subsidize
    the $9.99 price out of his pocket forever.)

    shortcovers — and scrollmotion too —
    seem (to me) to be efforts by publishers
    to lock in p-book prices for their e-books.

    good luck with that.

    meanwhile, people are already complaining
    about the high price of e-books, and they
    think $9.99 _is_ one of those high prices…

    and yes sir, “the customer is always right”,
    _especially_ when it comes to _not-buying_
    because the asking-price is way too high…
    (then the _non-customer_ is always right.)

    but hey, the recording industry tried to
    maintain their standing pricing-structure
    until their entire industry collapsed, and
    the newspaper industry is doing the same,
    as we speak, so i guess it’s no surprise that
    the publishing industry will be just as dumb.


  6. @Andrew, that link appears to go to a dead zone. I had to remove the ‘splash’ subdir to see it.

  7. Thanks Aaron, I’ve updated the link.