The announcement of a major push into ebook selling by Canadian book chain Indigo might carry a lesson for other international markets such as New Zealand. Indigo is about to launch its Shortcovers service, a wireless ebook download service aimed squarely at readers using the new smartphones such as Apple’s iPhone, the RIM Blackberry and gadgets based on the Google Android platform.
What’s particularly interesting about Indigo’s move is that they’re not waiting for the dedicated ebook readers such as Sony’s Reader to get established. They’re placing their bets on the increasingly sophisticated and ubiquitous smartphone market.
Michael Serbinis, Indigo’s vice-president of information technology, marketing and online business, cited the highly successful introduction of the Apple iPhone in Canada in 2007 as, “what really triggered our commitment.” As a model for markets such as New Zealand, it will be an interesting one to watch since waiting for companies like Sony to establish a critical mass of dedicated ebook readers could delay the market’s development by a couple of years or more.
Shortcovers isn’t just a bookstore. The Indigo division has reportedly developed its own reading application
which will be available immediately across several platforms including the iPhone, the new Blackberry Storm, and devices built on Google’s Android mobile platform.
The momentum around smartphones as reading devices is building rapidly. Leading the field, but by no means alone, is Stanza, the ebook reading application that became a surprise early hit in the iPhone App store. Stanza has had 1.3 million downloads since it launched mid last year. It’s led the Economist, in a recent editorial, to speculate that the ebook reader might be on the verge of what it calls “an iTunes moment”. This is a reference to the game-changing moment of take-off in 2003 when Apple’s iTunes music store created a new market for legal music downloads.
Interestingly, too, Indigo’s early strategy calls for it to launch with a full quota of international (particularly US) bestselling fiction and non-fiction. Provision of local titles from Canadian publishers will be a low priority at launch. This is partly determined by the simultaneous launch of the service into both Canada and the US, taking on Amazon in its home territory.