"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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