Ether Publishing turns iPhone into e-reader

A new publishing start-up is offering short stories, essays and poetry on cellphones, in the hope that users will decide they just don’t need an e-reader after all.

Ether Books is starting off with a library of around 200 items, including new short stories from authors including Alexander McCall-Smith and Lionel Shriver.

There’s an essay on vegetarianism by Paul McCartney and poetry from TS Eliot prize winner Philip Gross. Ether is signing up authors directly, rather than through publishers.

The service will initially be available only on the iPhone and iPod touch, although the company hopes to roll it out to other devices soon. It also plans to license its technology to traditional publishers and provide digital consulting services.

The app comes with half a dozen classic stories from authors including Thomas Hardy and Arthur Conan Doyle. Additional items will cost between $0.30 and $2.00, depending on length.

Short stories have traditionally been hard to sell and comparatively unpopular with readers, but Ether hopes that the form will be ideally suited for commuters.