Melbourne’s indie bookstore chainReadings debuted its ebookstoretoday – offering 120 titles through the unfortunately named Small Press Underground Networking Community (SPUNC).

As far as I can tell all 120 titles are Australian and published through s who’s-who of indie publishers, including larger indies Text Publishing, Spinifex and Wakefield Press. Obviously, the catalogue is going to have to expand for this to make any inroads intoRedGroup’s Kobo-powered ebookstore(s), but it’s a pretty good start.

Whether you consider this the first indie ebook store in Australia is up for debate – it hinges on RedGroup, and your definition of “independent”. But back to the Readings site …

The Good

  • Easy to navigate by book category and publisher
  • Simple and fast
  • Great reading preview

The bad

  • The prices for a browser-based ebook

The site is fairly easy on the eye and reasonably organised, but there are two problems. Well, it’s really one two/pronged problem. It’s all based on the in-the-browser reading platform, which isn’t really a problem in itself. Like Google’s ebookstore, you never actually get a file when you buy a book. They are stored in the cloud and you access ‘em with any device with a browser and internet connection.

But you can’t be charging people $19.95 for that kind of ebook. Well, you can, but furiously digitising and uploading locally released books, Readings can’t trade on exclusivity, and I think for those prices consumers want a file to download and keep.

You either do things in the browser at rock-bottom prices (the Google model) or you charge a bit more and serve a file download. It’s either-or, considering the common nervousness about in-the-cloud books. Google overcome this to an extend by offering the lowest prices. They may come a day when consumers don’t feel the need to get their hands on a file, but we haven’t even got the majority used to ebooks yet. Baby steps, people.


I’m a huge Shane Maloney fan, and have been since long before David Wenham brought Labor fixer Murray Whelan to life in film. Keep in mindStiff was first published (in paper) in 1999. Yes – it’s a 12-year-old work. price: $18.95 (Download, ePUB) price: $19.95 (browser-based)

Both prices are too high in my view, but there is no contest between them.

The cheapest ebook on the Readings home page when I checked was $9.94, with the vast majority between $14 and $20. I just can’t see how they will compete at those prices – I hope they drop them and prosper.

From the release:

Independent Melbourne bookseller Readings has launched an ebookstore today, becoming the first independent bookseller in the country to offer locally published ebooks.

The Readings ebookstore utilises the ‘in the cloud’ ebook platform Book.ish, developed by Melbourne-based software designer Inventive Labs,  and is the product of collaboration between the bookseller and the Small Press Underground Community (SPUNC).

The ebookstore, which today launched with 120 ebooks, will initially exclusively stock titles from small and independent Australian publishers who are members of SPUNC. However, Readings managing director Mark Rubbo told the Weekly Book Newsletterthe store was ‘in negotiation with most of the major trade publishers now and so far the reactions have been very positive; I hope that we have most of them on board by the end of March’.

‘I think it’s important to the success of the project that we offer readers a quality hand-picked, yet reasonably sizeable, range-just like [readers] get in our physical shops,’ he said.

SPUNC general manager Zoe Dattner told the Weekly Book Newsletter SPUNC publishers would set the price for ebooks on the platform. ‘SPUNC makes recommendations to its members about what the price should be, but it is up to the publisher, who can negotiate that with Readings,’ she said, adding that ‘Readings can  sell the book for less if they are doing a special promotion, for example, but the percentage that goes to the publisher remains the same.’

At present, the ebooks are sold on a dedicated site, however Rubbo said ‘the intention is that if you search on Readings’ print site for say, Truth, readers will also be alerted to the availability of the ebook version and will be able to click through to Readings ebook site to see it, hopefully buy it’.

Rubbo said that as ‘handles the transactions and grants access to the titles after they are bought’ it is ‘technically sensible to have the ebooks on a separate url, but it’s also important for the bookseller and for discoverabilty reasons that there is a relationship between the print site and the ebook  site.’

‘People buy ebooks differently to print books (which require a shopping cart and freight calculations and shipping addresses and other kinds of red tape),’ explains Joseph Pearson, software designer at Inventive Labs. ‘So we’ve provided Readings with a dedicated ebook store.’

‘There’ll be lots of integration between the Readings print online store and the Readings ebook store, including links to ebooks from print product pages,’ said Pearson.

As previously reported by the Weekly Book Newsletter, the Book.ish platform is built onMonacle open-source technology and the HTML5 ereader can be viewed on any device that has a modern web browser. The system is file-free and users are also able to read the ebooks offline.

The file-free nature of the system has been the subject of criticism over the past week, however, with concerns raised about the ownsership of ebooks which are stored ‘in the cloud’. Pearson responded to these concerns last week in this post which said that the ‘real issue confronting ebook consumers’  is ‘vendor lock-in’ which he says is addressed by the Book.ish platform.

Book.ish accepts ebook files from publishers in ePub format, which Pearson says is the ‘industry-standard ebook format’. ‘We’ll also take Zhook files, which is our open HTML5-based ebook standard,’ said Pearson, ‘but no-one’s given us one yet.’

Book.ish is compatible with Apple devices, such as the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch, and Android mobile devices but is not compatible with Kobo and Sony e-ink reading devices as they do not have a web browser. The ebooks can be read on the Kindle3 web browser, however, not in offline mode. The software is also compatible with most web browsers, with Safari (version 5.0) and Chrome (versions 7, 8, 9, 10) recommended. More information about compatibility can be found here.

While the ebooks available through the Readings store are not currently able to be forwarded or shared with others, Pearson said that this is an area which Book.ish is exploring with its partners.

‘Gift books and a lending program are on our schedule,’ said Pearson. ‘This area is somewhat fraught contractually,’ he said.

Readings customers will be able to access a sample of each ebook when browsing through the site, although the amount of text available in each sample is currently determined by individual publishers.

‘Book.ish is unique in that any publisher can at any time adjust the sample to show more or fewer chapters, and the change takes effect immediately,’ said Pearson. ‘Book.ish automatically takes a default percentage of the book as a sample when the book enters our system [and] publishers can arrange their own default percentage.’

Pearson said, however, that there are plenty of opportunities to experiment with this part of the ebookstore. Rubbo said that the amount and kind of information presented to consumers is something that is still being discussed.

Rubbo said that he believes ‘it’s very important that the bookseller be given space for endorsement and review to digitally hand sell the book’. ‘At the same time the publishers want to control some of the information that is presented, so the idea is that we create a “bookseller” space below the titles,’ said Rubbo, adding that this aspect of the store will require more work.

The Book.ish platform may soon be available to other booksellers, with its creators working to develop relationships with other retailers.

‘Readings is currently the exclusive partner with Book.ish,’ said Pearson. ‘[But] we hope to bring on other retail partners as soon as we reasonably can’.

‘Only Australian-owned bricks and mortar bookstores will be eligible for a Book.ish ebookstores when we launch our partner program,’ he added.

Via Jason Davis’ Book Bee blog


  1. Yep, the pricing is quite ridiculous, and it’s the biggest problem with this model, other than the question of…how does it present in a browser? A scrolling page is known to be a particularly unpleasant and tiring way to read a book.

    Unfortunately, at prices from $10, I will never partake of this model.

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