Canada’s Shelfie, Formerly BitLit Media, Is Shutting Down Its Service

In News by Porter Anderson

Catching industry observers off-guard, Shelfie—the Canadian bundler of ebooks with customers’ print editions—quietly announces its service is folding.

This message was posted at the Shelfie site Monday (January 30).

Update on February 2: To assist reader-consumers after the abrupt closure on January 31 of Shelfie’s service, Kobo is stepping in with an offer to carry on the service to February 28, “so you’ll be able to access your books in your Shelfie app until that time.” There’s a note with details at the Shelfie site.—Porter Anderson

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘All I Can Say Is That It’s True’
In an abrupt development on Monday evening (January 30), the Canadian ebook-and-print bundling service Shelfie has announced that it’s closing its service, effective Tuesday (January 31).

Peter Hudson

Publishing Perspectives has reached CEO and co-founder Peter Hudson, who is declining to give details at this point. Hudson says, simply, “For now about all I can say is that it’s true.” He does add an interesting, if oblique, comment: “Not much we can add at the moment other than the service is shutting down.”

Presumably, details will be forthcoming.

For some time, the Vancouver-based Shelfie—which was created as BitLit Media—has been seen as an example of perseverance and grit among publishing startups. And yet, on Monday, the site’s landing page carried this message:

“We regret to inform you that Shelfie will be ceasing operations on January 31, 2017.

“What this means for Shelfie users:

  • “Our servers will be shutting down on January 31. You can re-download any DRM-free books between now and then.
  • “You no longer have access to DRM (.acsm) books.
  • “Your app will cease to function in a meaningful way on January 31.

“We started Shelfie with the idea of connecting books and readers and we have worked hard over the past four years to make that a reality. We are grateful for the support we have received from amazing readers like you, who have been a part of Shelfie.

“Keep reading, The Shelfie Team”

‘At Shelfie, We Love Our Data’

Perhaps one of the most bittersweet of stories from Shelfie was this conversation with Hudson almost a year ago when he described “cold calling from Canada” for three years as the “secret” of his success in attracting more than 2.100 publishers to his company.

More recently, there had been news of Harvard Book Store partnering with the startup in May and with Germany’s De Gruyter in August. This month, we’d heard from Hudson and Shelfie vice president for content Mary Alice Elcock, in an appraisal with Publishing Perspectives’ Carla Douglas of the somewhat cooled publishing startup scene.

And most recently, Hudson shared some of the indications his Shelfie consumer data for ebook subscriptions.

Mary Alice Elcock

Shelfie’s service has been that of matching readers’ print copies of books to ebook editions that publishers would like to “bundle” for those customers, sometimes at discounted prices. The change from “BitLit” to “Shelfie” in the company’s branding came with the technology the company has used to “read” a consumer’s shelf by having the reader take a photo of the book spines on her or his bookshelf, and then informing that customer of which ebook or audiobook editions were available from various publishers. Publishers could elect to have DRM applied or not.

Clearly, one of the most attractive elements of this for a publisher could be the data that Shelfie collected on a reader who, perhaps long ago, had bought a print copy of a book—without a trace of consumer data on the transaction—and suddenly having that customer come back into view, if you will, by asking for the ebook edition.

In his most recent interview with Publishing Perspectives, Hudson noted how big a role its data-gathering capacity was playing: “At Shelfie,” he said, “we love our data.”

Shelfie in 2013 was shortlisted for The Bookseller’s FutureBook Innovation Award in London.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.