Kobo Acquires Print-Digital Bundling Startup Shelfie

When Shelfie shut down its ebook bundling platform in January, founder Peter Hudson told me 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."

Today Shelfie found its platform.

Kobo just sent out a press release with the news that it has acquired the now-shuttered Shelfie.

You can find the press release at the end of this post - here's what this deal means.

  • Shelfie spent four years developing a platform where users could make a post-sale bundle consisting of a print and ebooks.
  • When promoted in bookstores, Shelfie's service almost doubled one bookseller's sales of bundled titles
  • Many of Kobo's partners around the world are bookstore chains or media retailers, including WHSmith, Coles, Indigo, and FNAC.

All in all, this is a deal that makes a lot of sense, and what's even better is that it puts Shelfie in the position to kill a clunky part of its platform.

Under Shelfie's old platform, users had to prove they owned a paper book by personalizing it, taking a photo, and then either buying or downloading the matching ebook.

That was just too clunky for words, and it defintely discouraged adoption.

But now that Kobo owns Shelfie, they will be able to tie it into their partner booksellers' servers and automatically suggest that readers get the matching ebook to go with the paper book they just bought. The ebooks can be added automatically to a reader's Kobo account - no muss, no fuss, and no foofing around with a smartphone app.

If I were Amazon, I would be wincing today.

Sure, Kobo is a tiny compared to Amazon, but one of its advantages is that it has partners in many markets where Amazon has no presence.

This deal reinforces Kobo's strength by giving their local partners a new way to sell books.

This could be huge in the long run.

O O O

Rakuten Kobo Inc., one of the world’s most innovative eReading companies, today announced it has acquired Shelfie, a service that was built to enable customers to get free or discounted eBook versions of books in their print libraries, and get recommendations based on print books they already own. The deal includes technology assets, IP, and the infrastructure on which the ecosystem runs; it also includes hiring Shelfie’s skilled team, which specializes in the application of big data and machine learning for book discovery.

Shelfie ceased operations this January. Kobo worked with Shelfie to offer its customers the opportunity to transfer their eBook libraries to Kobo’s platform, ensuring they would continue to have access to their digital books. Over the coming months, Kobo will work to integrate the Shelfie platform into its Android and iOS apps, enabling readers to add their print libraries to their reading history to generate ever more tailored eBook recommendations, as well as the option to get digital versions of print titles they already own.

Founded in 2013 by Peter Hudson and Marius Muja, as BitLit Media Inc., Shelfie grew to offer more than 450,000 eBooks and audiobooks that booklovers could purchase at a discount or download free of charge. Via any iOS or Android device, users snapped a photo of their bookshelf, and through patented technology, Shelfie scanned the spines of every book to identify titles and give readers a complete inventory of their collection, and served them the available equivalent titles in digital—free of charge or at a promotional price. The service also used the titles on the shelf as data, combined with digital reading data, to generate personalized recommendations.

“We know our best customers move fluidly between formats, reading digitally and in print, and we welcome this opportunity to bring their entire reading life together. People who come to Kobo already have a history of reading in print that we don’t want to ignore. This acquisition will allow us to expand our ecosystem by incorporating Shelfie’s innovative advances in book recommendation, discovery, and bundling, which is especially interesting considering our large network of bricks-and-mortar bookselling partners,” said Michael Tamblyn, CEO, Rakuten Kobo Inc.

“We’re proud of what we’ve built, and in Kobo, have found the perfect platform to expand on what Shelfie has to offer, on a global scale,” said Peter Hudson, CEO, Shelfie. “Finding the next book to read is a challenge that resonates with many booklovers, who increasingly are looking to personal recommendations as opposed to algorithm-based suggestions. With Shelfie’s technology, avid readers will easily be able to find the next must-read book.”

image by ActuaLitté

About Nate Hoffelder (10619 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader:"I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

2 Comments on Kobo Acquires Print-Digital Bundling Startup Shelfie

  1. I stopped buying print books years ago. I tried Shelfie, after several dozen scans I think only one or two came up with ebook deals. Total waste of time. I would rather somebody gave me a few dollars for the books, and a prepaid shipping label. Then I could buy whatever ebooks that I want.

    There are just not enough publishers supporting this model, and I don’t see Kobo making much lemonade out of it. Amazon has had the very similar Matchbook program for some time and that isn’t very impactful either. Again, few publishers participate in that.

  2. I’m a fan of Kobo but it doesn’t sell print books, so how can this work? Its publisher partners will be of no help because the vast majority of print books are not bought directly from publishers.

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