Sad news, but in the end, not surprising: Shelfie, nee BitLit, the start-up that would let you prove you owned a paper copy of book to get a discount rate on buying an ebook edition, announced the other day that it is closing down as of today. CEO and founder Peter Hudson told The Digital Reader (and a few other blogs that asked) that “In the end the unit economics of ebook sales just don’t make much sense if you don’t own the platform like Apple, Google, or Amazon.”
So, effectively, it’s the same problem that led Baen to wave the white flag of surrender a few years back, effectively ending its bundle sales past the date of book publication so that it could get its ebook titles onto Amazon. It seems that just not enough people are willing to buy ebooks from smaller platforms to keep the company in business. This makes me sad, as Shelfie was a really clever idea, and helped to ameliorate one of the most annoying aspects of double-dipping on those titles for which it is available.
The Shelfie app still works at the moment, including making sales, and I’ve just spent the last hour hurriedly buying all the Shelfie editions of books I own in paper and like enough to want digitally as well, then adding them to my Calibre. Some of the books are sold DRM-free, while others produce ACSM files that will add DRM-laden versions to your Adobe Digital Editions installation.
Unfortunately, those DRM-laden files will stop working when Shelfie shuts its servers down, which is a sad consequence of any DRM-using ebook store going out of business these days. On the bright side, the DRM that they use is a standard platform that does not exactly pose a major obstacle to taking certain measures to make sure that you continue to own the media you bought and paid for. Breaking ebook DRM is still illegal in the USA and some other countries (for all that it really shouldn’t be), but not in other parts of the world.
Hudson adds that, though Shelfie can’t keep running the store, they have had a few nibbles at the book-to-ebook image recognition and bundling technology—to which they still own all the patents. Might we eventually see one of the major players add the ability to sell discounted ebooks to people who already own the paper copies? (I have my doubts it would be Amazon, given that it seems unlikely most major publishers would be willing to work with them on the bundling deal, but who knows?)
Update: In a follow-up email, the Shelfie team noted that Kobo has offered to continue providing access to Shelfie-purchased ebooks until February 28, so those who bought such books from Shelfie will have another month in which to download them.
Might this mean Kobo is looking into scooping up Shelfie the same way it has other ebook vendors (Sony, Blinkbox, Flipkart, Waterstones, Sainsbury’s) that have gone out of business? I expect we’ll just have to wait and see.
I just don’t get why Barnes & Noble didn’t buy this company. It would have given them some features that publishers could leverage to promote competition against Amazon. Because as cool as Shelfie’s technology is, you really can’t do P+E outside of a major retail platform. As Shelfie found out, it’s not enough to make a retail destination in and of itself, and lack of integration with a major retailer’s infrastructure leads to some UX messiness that could otherwise be avoided.
Ironically, Amazon figured this out for music and did the equivalent of P+E (buy the CD, get the MP3 free) to help compete with the market leader, iTunes.
Maybe they talked to B&N and couldn’t agree on price?
Since when has Barnes & Noble done anything sensible lately?
Shelfie was doing a great job at thinking outside the box, but it was impractical to require their app to recognize books before it could make you an offer. That step was really slow — especially given the small number of books which were actually in their system. Also, they needed to partner with an ebook distributor like Amazon or BN and not rely on their own reading app.
Actually, they were apparently partnered with Google Play. At least that’s who the payment processed through. Then download links to MOBI files, EPUB files, or Adobe Digital Editions ACSM download files were made available. They didn’t use their own reader.
Chris, thanks for rescuing me from my ignorance. I could have sworn that they were using an ereader app.