Have you ever weighed the convenience of e-books against their cost? Those days may be far behind you. Meet Shelfie: the free app that lets you bundle digital copies of the books on your shelf for deep discounts. Capitalizing on the #shelfie Instagram trend, Shelfie — by BitLit — searches images you submit for books their partnered publishers have agreed to discount, or even offer for free! I spoke with Shelfie's Vice President of Growth, Kamil Szybalski, to find out more about the app.
Now, I'm a big fan of traditional, paper books. For me, there's nothing like holding a physical book and turning each page. Plus, they don't have batteries and can't get intrusive text messages. But my main resistance to e-books lies in the cost; I just can't legitimize paying for a digital copy when I can get the actual book in my hands for the same price, or even cheaper! So, for me, Shelfie is a real game-changer.
Here's how it works. First, download the free Shelfie app to your iOS or Android device and sign in; the app connected to my Google account automatically. Next, follow the tutorial to take and submit pictures of the books on your shelf. Shelfie will tell you to expect a 15-minute wait to analyze your images, but Szybalski assured me that actual wait times depend on the clarity of your photos, the number of user photos being processed at the time, and how familiar the app is with your titles. You can check the status of your submissions in the app, but you'll get an email when they're complete. If Shelfie fails to identify your titles — due to wear, light glare, or just poor photography — you'll have to retake the image to try again.
Shelfie identifies titles using software that recognizes letters on the spines of your books and matches the titles it deciphers to its title database. This computer vision, developed by BitLit co-founder and CTO Marius Muja, is powered by a learning algorithm; every time Shelfie identifies a copy of The Shining, then, it gets that must more efficient at identifying The Shining for future users.
Shelfie will send you the download links for any public domain books you own straightaway. For books still under copyright law, however, you'll have to prove your ownership by sending additional pictures of the covers and your name on the copyright page; bookplates, ex libris stamps, and printing your name in ink are all valid ways of proving you own your books.
Shelfie has partnered with more than 300 publishers to date, many of which are indie operations. You'll find some bigwigs here, though, including HarperCollins, Tor, and Harlequin. According to Szybalski, Shelfie's demographic is currently determined by the publishers and books the app can offer at discounted prices. To that end, fans of science fiction, romance, and inspirational titles may find more of their books on Shelfie than readers of other genres, but don't let that discourage you from trying the app. With several publishers — including Angry Robot, Brindle & Glass, and Nimbus — offering e-books for free to owners of physical copies, you're sure to be pleasantly surprised.
User interaction and input are essential in shaping Shelfie. Szybalski notes that his company always wanted to give the app some social aspects, but that feedback from the community pushed social integration to the top priority. In the latest version, which is already available on iOS and slated to roll out on Android in the coming weeks, Shelfie operates as a social network: matching you with users who have similar tastes in books, allowing you to share photos taken in the app to Instagram, and providing book recommendations based on titles you've read. An even more advanced version of the app, currently up for review on iOS, allows Shelfie users to connect with Goodreads in order to import and export reading lists and shelves.
Szybalski has hopes that Shelfie will overtake Goodreads as the bookish social network of choice, and I believe it stands a good chance. Interactions with other users on Goodreads are not, in my experience, particularly social. Sure, I read others' reviews, and I'll occasionally like a status update from a friend if I see she's reading a book I like, but that's about it. I don't find myself messaging, commenting, and sharing others' content like I do on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Combined with Goodreads' inability to shelve books in large batches, this lack of social activity leaves an opening Shelfie can easily fill.