Shortcovers, developer of the Iceberg e-book reader for iPhone, BlackBerry, Palm Pre and Android mobile phones, recently announced it will offer a new version of its reader application on the iPhone OS 3.0 this summer. Today, the company announced the hiring of Michael Tamblyn, former president and CEO of BookNet Canada, as Head of Content and Sales—that’s longhand for “publisher.”
Looking at the product news, which was the beginning of a direct attack on the iPhone reading market, currently dominated by Amazon through its Lexcycle acquisition and the increasing popularity of its Kindle for iPhone application, it did not strike me as remarkable. It’s pretty clear that a number of e-reader developers are working toward nothing other than acquisition by Amazon, Google or Someone Else. Without a serious business effort, though, the app could be very good and not go anywhere. Shortcovers needs more than the thousands of titles it currently offers, and those new mainstream titles need to lay the foundation for the company’s self-publishing initiative. Every Shortcovers reader can be a publisher, too.
The addition of Tamblyn, who founded Bookshelf.ca and, at BookNet Canada spent six years working to overhaul the book distribution networks of publishers, book distributors and booksellers in Canada. He tuned the supply chain and established industry-wide cataloging standards, something easier to do in Canada, because the government gets involved, than in the U.S.
In short, he’s been working the distribution problem and building relationships, especially with publishers who are seeking new channels for their products. This is a guy who can do deals, making the mystery of e-publishing transparent to paper publishers who just want to see another revenue stream kickstarted at the lowest possible cost, so they can focus on what many publishers believe their business to be: buying and exploiting rights.
Now, I think the Iceberg reader is very interesting and worth close attention.
Related note: Shortcovers offers some free books, one of which I downloaded yesterday, Serial, by Jack Kilborn (a pseudonym used by cop-novel author J.A. Konrath, see the novel Afraid) and Blake Crouch. It’s an awful short story aspiring to be Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” but imagine that both the killer in the back seat and the grouchy grandmother are serial killers. And that there is no story and no character development. The predictable story lingers over gore, finding titillating pleasure in murder victim’s suffering while turning the brief and predictable conflict between two serial killers who find themselves hunting prey in the same car into a kind of action-movie sequence that reveals nothing, nor changes anything about the characters. Except, they die. Crappy story, bad enough to make me dislike the application, because it showed no sense of what a good story might be.
2 replies on “Shortcovers making moves, hiring for clout”
Mitch — Can you provide a bit of context for how you see the self-publishing model being a game changer for Shortcovers?
It seems pretty easy for Amazon to enable that capability almost instantly: with their S3 cloud being the hosting point for the application and storage of content.
How’s a firm like Shortcovers find a spot there and, given the hire of a “deal guy, publishing edition”, do you think the self-publishing arena has just moved into a secondary (even tertiary) part of their game plan?
Good question. In fact, I think the self-publishing is a secondary element of everyone’s plans, because the typical self-published book sells only a few copies. However, I think it is critical to the success of all these programs that mainstream and self-published books appear as equals within search results.
Amazon has this capability now, through several different companies it has acquired—both for paper and online production—but the difference between a self-published book listing and a professional prepared one can be jarring. The problem, as I see it, is that the self-publishers need more help with book design (where fees could be earned) and marketing.
But, to the point: With only a few thousand titles from mainstream publishers, Shortcovers has no catalog to compete with Amazon, Scribd, Sony’s bookstore, Stanza, etc. That choice is critical to the customer’s belief that they are getting a wide range of options through the Iceberg reader, else they end up with two, three or more ereaders with incompatible libraries. That is going to backfire on everyone.
As I said, they became interesting yesterday. They have a long way to go, but this is a smart move.