The Shortcovers website and companion iPhone and Blackberry apps launched today (we posted a sneak preview back in January). Put simply, it’s a website for buying ebooks. But there’s a few interesting twists that (for now) set it apart.
Though most of the current content is books, the primary unit of the service is the “shortcover” — things like an article, a blog post, and a book chapter. That means publishers have the option of making individual chapters available for sale (or as free samples). But perhaps the more interesting consequence of that is something they’re calling “mixes,” where readers can combine multiple shortcovers into a single “mix” (think iTunes playlist), and share that with other readers. Though my search was admittedly brief, I wasn’t able to find any for-pay content available for inclusion in a mix.
They also definitely understand the social aspect of reading. Beyond the mixes, readers can also upload their own content, rate content, and share content (via Twitter or email).
On the downside, right now although some content is downloaded locally to the iPhone, most of the service only really works when you’re online. Also, the navigation within books isn’t very intuitive, and the interfaced doesn’t drop away while reading (the navigation and settings bars at the top and bottom remain on screen while reading).
And (sadly unsurprisingly), the reader appears to have trouble displaying complex content like lists and tables, and computer code (the ones I looked at either didn’t display the code at all, or displayed it in regular variable-width font). I’ve sent a note to the Shortcovers folks to try and learn more, but I’m continually surprised with how poorly many of these reading systems (including the Kindle, until very recently) have handled kinds of content that have been part of standard HTML for well over a decade. Here’s some screenshots of the problem:
I’d be more sympathetic if the iPhone SDK didn’t already include the WebKit framework for rendering HTML. Sigh.
But overall it’s a decent start, and an impressive first real entry into the mobile reading space from an existing print retailer.
Several more iPhone screenshots are below: