Shortcovers: First impression

MCMThursday, February 26, 2009

I'm not one of those people that says things like: "This changes everything" or the more-amusing: "PARADIGM SHIFT!". But good god... if Shortcovers.com works the way it's meant to, I think we've got our first taste of 21st century literature consumption. And it's a GOOD taste.

The site appears to be built by tech-minded people rather than lawyers or the marketing department, which is pretty amazing for a large company like Indigo. They sell lots of major titles (Neil Gaiman's "Graveyard Book" is apparently their top seller thus far), and have a publisher system that I am waiting to use so I can see how I can integrate it into my sales plans. The mere fact that they allow smaller players to participate is a major improvement over competition like Fictionwise, which sets arbitrary qualification standards for no reason I can discern. (I'll reserve final judgement on Shortcovers' process until I actually get to play with it.)

One element I love is that the site gives real and distinct attention to Creative Commons licenses. They don't just say "use real copyright or that CC-stuff", they give you the choice between "Attribution" and "Noncommercial-Attribution", and they explain what each means. If nothing else, the respect for CC is a major victory. But that's not all. That's almost small-fry next to the real news:

The major revelation is something I've been desperately wanting the past few months: Any user can upload their own content to the service. You can either give it away for free, give it away for free (with ads) or charge $0.99 for the 5,000 word piece (where the first 500 words are free as a preview).

Let me reiterate, because I want to make sure this is super-duper clear: you can sell your short story online for $0.99.

I'm not going to delve into the whole professional vs amateur thing again, but at a glance, it appears that Shortcovers will allow any author to potentially make a living at their craft, if they're good enough. It's not a question of surviving the slush pile and navigating the murky waters of major publishing... if your story is great and you can convince enough people that it is, you could easily float to the top of the pile. There exists an environment and mechanism by which you can move left along the long tail, up towards major success, purely based on merit.

Granted, most authors are going to run from this idea, afraid of what damage it might do to their careers... but I think that this may be the foundation of the new way of publishing. I'm already giving it a try with my short story, "The Virus Coder's Girl", which is free (with ads) on your computer or iPhone or Blackberry.

It's not perfect. There are revisions and battles and upgrades to happen, and who knows if Shortcovers will be the one to carry the theory through to the end... but I think we've finally got a real, proper baseline standard to measure against. This is what we're aiming for. By the time my kids are in university, this will be a quaint antiquity in the history of reading. But it will be a direct ancestor to whatever they're doing in 2020, which is more than you can say for any other service out there today.

This is a service created by smart people, and I can't wait to see what happens next.

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