Mobile Tech


Shortcovers E-Reader: An Unfinished Story

Over the past year or so, e-readers have suddenly become a must-have gadget. Amazon’s Kindle e-reader was even named one of talk show host Oprah Winfrey’s favorite things in 2008. With the recent release of the second iteration of the Kindle, electronic books and their accompanying devices are back in the news.

However, in these tough economic times, not everyone has the wherewithal to pony up US$350 for the Kindle or any other similarly priced e-reader. That’s where the newly launched Shortcovers comes in.

Combining aspects of a social networking site with content ranging from newspaper and magazine articles to blogs, op-eds and first chapters and excerpts of novels, Shortcovers is designed to bring e-books to smartphones, including BlackBerry devices and Apple’s iPhone.

Is the Screen Mightier Than the Page?

As an avid reader, I’ve always pined for a device that would allow me to cart around a slew of books without having to actually lug big, heavy volumes with me. Devices such as the Kindle seem like the perfect solution, but the $350 price tag is definitely more than I’d want to spend on any e-reader, especially when I could pick up a netbook that offers more functionality for roughly the same amount.

So, with my trusty BlackBerry Storm in hand, I headed over to the Shortcovers site. After registering, a quick download of the Shortcovers mobile application was all it took for me to be able to begin browsing through the thousands of books and lists stocking Shortcovers virtual shelves.

The first thing I noticed was that the application did not switch to landscape mode when I turned the handset on its side. That’s a drag because that means all typing is done on the Storm’s two-letter per key short keyboard. Annoying as it may be, it’s not up to the level of a deal-breaker for me.

Navigating through the site on the mobile application is accomplished by clicking on different categories that let users browse through the Shortcovers’ featured or most popular content, search the library, or change the settings. Though I found this somewhat limiting and wished that I could browse by topic or refine an author name search using links or some other method, it was not a major annoyance.

Skimming through the hundreds of excerpts, novel chapters and entire books on offer, it was easy to find well-known and popular titles. Authors on the site include John Grisham, Stephen King, and Stephanie Meyer, creator of the Twilight series. There are books on politics, do-it-yourself topics, finance and historical texts.

A search for newspaper articles and blogs yielded no results. There are, however, many lists of books created by other users. There are also many excerpts and chapters that have been submitted by unpublished writers as well as from those whose works have been self-published or printed by smaller publishing houses.

One thing I really enjoyed was the recommendations and ranking system. Select a book and you can see other books and materials the site believes are related. It also allows users to rank their reads with stars. Users can also see how many times a book has been viewed, bookmarked and shared as well as what source submitted the content.

Reader on Board

I was a bit disappointed with several aspects of the Shortcovers site’s offerings. Although some of the books available on Shortcovers are downloadable in their e-book form, it seemed like an equal or greater number were not. So while I could read an excerpt or first chapter, if I wanted to read the rest of the book, the only option was to buy it — in hardback, paperback or on CD — via the Barnes & Noble link and wait for the book to be shipped to me.

This seems to defeat the purpose of the site and mobile application to a certain extent.

However, being able to access a Web site online with my laptop or using my smartphone is a big plus. So despite its shortcomings, I was still pleased with the overall offerings from Shortcovers. As the site did not quite live up to my expectations, though, I contacted Michael Serbinis, executive vice president of Shortcovers and chief information officer at Indigo Books & Music with a few questions.

Blogs, newspaper articles, etc. will be gradually added to the site, according to Serbinis.

“We’re ramping up to blogs. We basically focused the launch on including as many books as possible from our top publishers. That was really the focus, to get as many books in on day one and then to layer in blogs, magazines and newspaper articles in the coming months,” he told TechNewsWorld.

The site hosts about 200,000 books currently, and among those, 50,000 are available as e-books — 20,000 are free and 30,000 are available for purchase. There are also free first chapters. Pricing on the site starts at $0.99 for chapters and from about $5.99 for books.

“The idea is that as we roll out our next wave of publishers that we’ll offer the digital version as well,” Serbinis explained.

Shortcovers also plans to improve the functionality and features for its mobile application. The company plans to eventually support more devices; currently the site supports the iPhone and various BlackBerry models (the Storm, the Bold, the Curve, the Javelin, and the 8000 Series). There is also a beta application for the G1 Android handset.

“On the iPhone it does landscape, but on the Blackberry Storm it does not, and that will be in there next week or so. We’re working on a ton of new functionality. We have a roadmap planned for the next six months to a year as we roll out exciting new devices like the Palm Pre, the Symbian platform that includes a lot of Nokia devices and Windows Mobile platform, which supports a ton of devices,” he pointed out.

Shortcovers will also add features to allow users to browse by favorite author, topic or genre in the coming months.

All that means that I have to hold off on giving Shortcovers a thumbs up or down until they have been around a little longer and rolled out their enhancements. Until, then, I’ll keep on reading.

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